Friday, October 29, 2010

Rock2Rock 10K Trail Race Report

Note: This is an archive-edition race report for the May 28, 2010, Rock 2 Rock 10K Trail Run near Asheville, NC.

When a race director's course description bluntly states, "You will not run this entire course," believe it! The Rock2Rock Trail Run was an enormously challenging race! With more than 2000 feet of climbing in the first half of the race and trails that epitomize everything in the word "technical", this course kicks any runner's glutes. Damn it was fun!

See photos of the 2010 Rock2Rock Trail Run on Flickr

The family and I began planning to visit my brother and his wife in the NC mountains a little over a month ago. When I read that the Rock2Rock Trail Run would be taking place on the very same weekend I planned to be in the Asheville area, I was ecstatic. The race description had me at "trail run".

This was only my second experience at an organized race. And, it was the first time I ran in the mountains. I knew the air would be thinner and the hills would be higher than anything I was used to. After seeing in last year's results that the majority of the participants were from the mountains, I knew I would be out of my league in this race. The other bit of advice in the race description, "add about 60% on to your usual 10k time," pretty much convinced me of the fact that I wouldn't be setting any records for myself here. But, I was sure it'd be fun.

I arrived at the race site later than I expected, just a half hour before the 5:00 PM start time. But, it was a fairly small race with less than 200 participants. So, I didn't have to wait in line to register. Set in a traditional summer camp at the base of a mountain with a small lake, the race site couldn't have been more beautiful. Runners were accompanied by their families (well, not me, unfortunately) with little kids playing on the lakeside beach and doggies running around greeting the runners. We all parked in a soccer field and warmed up by running the few hundred meters between it and the registration table.

The swag was nice: A nifty visor, a sport bottle, and a tube of lip sunscreen stuff from Gore-Tex. La Sportiva had a tent set up with shoes available to try out during the race. I resisted the urge to try the new shoes, reminding myself of the cardinal rule: Nothing new on race day. Besides, my Inov-8 Flyroc 310s really needed this experience.

The director called for us to line up in the starting area, a flat, grassy space beside the lake. There were not mats. We just stood in a bunch behind a line of really fast-looking runners. I stood very close to the back of the pack. After a few introductions and warnings about the steep climbs in the course, we were off!

Several of the runners took off quickly, some of which I ended up passing in the first quarter of the race. The initial climb was pretty easy over a wide, gravely trail. After a few 160-degree turns, the incline became almost twice as steep. A few people who were ahead of me started power hiking. The trail leveled out for a few meters at 15 minutes (my time of course) into the race, taking us through a clearing with waist-high grass on either side of the trail. But, we were soon vertical and under the cover of treetops again.

At almost 19 minutes into the race, I decided to take a turn at power hiking. It was strange to pass people while hiking. And, I found myself wondering whether I was going at an appropriate pace, wondering if I was conserving enough energy.

I was able to run again when the hillside became less vertical. Others did, too, of course. Then the trail turned into a single-track, seemingly-75-degree cliff face for too many meters to count (not that I could have counted).

We moved in small batches, each group held up behind a leader until someone broke free to advance toward another group of hikers. We huffed. We puffed. We sweated. We made sure the people who'd stopped were okay. There's a genuine comraderie among this bunch of trail runners. Perhaps it was because the race was a small one. Perhaps it's just because we're runners.

Each time the incline became rockier and more mountainous, I thought I was near the top. But, no. This single-track climb went on forever. I second-guessed my ability to finish the race, wondered what happened to people who DNF this thing. Do they take a nap before walking back down the trail?

My quads were tingling with each step over the rocks. Fallen tree limbs were true obstacles. And, I couldn't even imagine running again. But, what's this? The trail is leading down hill?

I told my legs to act like they were running. And, they did, in fact start to run--fast! I knew that the downhills were key to gaining an edge in this race. And, I did my best to avoid busting my rear while weaving around tree trunks through chest-high vegetation. I couldn't believe I was actually running again. I heard footsteps behind me, keeping pace with my footfalls as I navigated the trails and followed the orange flags. As the trail leveled out, the fellow behind me passed by and said, "thanks for the pace! I don't know what I would have done."

"No problem!" I replied.

Then, after just a few meters of downhill, we were hiking uphill again.

That first incline must have been the first "rock" in the race. I hadn't yet reached the second "rock", the highest point in the race, which is where the water stop would be.

So, I again found myself pushing harder than ever in an effort to scale the trail. Time passed slowly again, each big rock fooling me into thinking that the water stop was just around the corner.

Finally, I heard someone encouraging another runner up ahead. The encourager sounded like he had far too much breath in his lungs to be a runner in this race. So, I knew it must be the water stop.

I was right! Located on a large rock formation with a view of the lake and surrounding mountains far below, the water stop was a welcome site. I've never been so happy to hold a little Dixie cup in my hand.

The water stop guy told me that there was just 200 more meters of uphill trail. The rest of the race would be downhill. Awesome! I thanked him and hurried on my way, looking down at the ground just as the race photographer snapped my picture.

When I reached the second summit, I again made my legs run. The momentum was easy to build as the trail dropped steeply downward. The single track through a perilous tunnel of azaleas and fallen trees and over slippery, steep trails was an exciting start to the final descent. I felt certain that I'd end up injured by the end of this race. But, I ran downward as fast as I could, half sliding as if on skis, half propelling from tree trunks.

Someone was behind me and keeping pace well. I debated moving to the side and letting him pass right away. But, I was having too much fun racing through the tree tunnel without slowing down for someone. He seemed to be cool with it. We passed several runners who were clearly uncomfortable with the angle of the descent. I encouraged them as I went by. Although, I'm sure it sounded something like, "hhhwhwhwgohood jobpffpfp!"

Eventually, I slipped and swung to the right on a tree trunk in order to stop myself from falling down. This gave my pursuer the edge he needed to pass me. So, he was ahead now. No problem. I'm not competing here.

The trail changed to what appeared to be a dried up, rocky creek bed for the remainder of the last mile or two. The incline was less steep. But, dodging and jumping the rocks made for some interesting footwork. I kept thinking, "This is gonna hurt tomorrow. That's gonna hurt. Ooh, that's could have really hurt!"

A stream crossing allowed me to test the drainage capabilities of my Inov-8s. I guess they work fine for that. The cool water felt good on my feet.

Suddenly, the rocky trail opened up onto a gravel road. Not only that, but the incline was more than managable. I sped up, following the orange shirt in front of me. We rounded a corner onto soft mulch and were faced with one more small hill. People were cheering and clapping, urging us toward the finish. A little girl stood a few meters from the finish line saying that we just have to round the tree and we'll be golden!

And, just like that, my run was over. The volunteers at the finish tore the bottom portion of my bib for timing (No chips in this race). My finish time was 1:16:22. I was 84th out of 130 runners. Like I stated earlier, these mountain runners know how to run!

I walked around a bit, eating a banana and helping myself to the water in the refreshment tent. My legs were hot and numb. I marveled at the workout I'd just completed. As more runners approached the finish line, I clapped and cheered for them. I stretched, cooled off, and watched the award ceremony before a thunderstorm started dropping rain on us. It was a fantastic experience!

The weapon of choice: Inov-8 Flyroc 310

Inov-8 Flyroc 310 after the race

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