Monday, November 22, 2010

The Raven Rock Rumble 10-Mile Trail Race Report

I’d been really looking forward to this race after registering for it a couple of weeks ago. Since the marathon, I’d been uncertain about my fitness level. And, I really wondered how much speed I’d lost over the past four weeks of easy, low-milage recovery runs.

So, the Raven Rock Rumble, which took place at Raven Rock State Park this past weekend, was to be my official test race to see whether I could officially say that I’m ready to get out of marathon-recovery mode.


I was driving along a quiet, two-lane, country highway on the way to the race. The white Mercedes in front of me suddenly slowed to a near stop, because the car in front of that one was making a right turn into a driveway. I had plenty of space between my car and the Mercedes. So, I didn’t have to break to a screeching halt, or anything. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with the Subaru Outback behind me.

bamMy car lurched forward and loose change flew out of the cup holders, landing all over the floor. I’d been hit—hard! But, fortunately, I hadn’t been pushed into the Mercedes, which sped away, apparently oblivious to the crushing sound and bouncing automobile behind it.

My immediate thought as I pulled off to the side of the road and turned on my hazard lights was, "Oh, son of a &itch! I'm going to have to call the police. And, I’m going to miss the race! [Expletive, expletive, expletive]!"

I guessed that I was no more than five minutes away from the park. Packet pickup was scheduled to close at 8:30, and the 10-mile race would start at 9:05. It was roughly 8:10 when I stepped out of my car to talk to the guy who hit me.

His Subaru had more damage than my car suffered, because his airbags deployed upon impact. The windshield was broken, the rear-view mirror had been knocked off, and the interior of the car was cloudy with some sort of chalky substance released with the airbags. My car's bumper was smashed.

The guy was nice enough about the incident. He asked if I was okay, offered me whatever papers he could find in his glove compartment, not sure what the insurance information would look like. I called my wife while he called his sister (because it was her car, apparently). My wife instructed me to call the police so that we would have a report for insurance, etc. Being the dutiful husband that I am, I did exactly what she told me to do.

Of course, I didn't want to call the police, because I knew that waiting for them to show up would greatly increase my chances of not making it to the race on time. But, I'd have to be an idiot not to do what my wife told me to do in this situation.

So, I spoke to the 911 operator who dispatched a state trooper to our location. The trooper was very professional and spent around 20 or 30 agonizing minutes in his car doing whatever he was doing with our automobile info. All the while, I'm pacing, bouncing on my toes, and checking the time on my cell phone. I kept debating whether it would be futile for me to attempt driving to the race if I happened to finish here before 9:00.
  • 8:46: the trooper walks over to me and explains what I should tell my insurance company when I talk to them.
  • 8:47: I'm back in my car driving toward Raven Rock State Park.
  • 8:50: I'm parking the car and pulling on my Inov-8 Roclite 285s.
  • 8:52: I'm sprinting to the packet-pickup area, which happens to be a full 3/4 mile away from the parking lot! Sure, the packet-pickup cutoff time was 8:30. But, I'm hoping that they'll take pity on a fellow who’d just been in a car accident.
  • 8:59: I reach the starting area as the 5-mile racers are lining up.
  • 9:00: There are two very nice ladies at the packet-pickup area who graciously allow me to retrieve my bib after I breathlessly explain why I was late. The 5-mile racers run by and I hear the race director say that it’s four minutes until the start of the 10-mile race.
  • 9:01: I thank the ladies profusely for understanding my delay and ask where the porta-potties are located. (What? I had to pee!) They point to a clearing just a few meters away. I run over there.
  • 9:03-9:04: (I really had to pee!) I'm out the door of the porta-potty and running toward the starting area. There's no one there! A dude asks me if I'm running the 10-mile. I say yes. He says it starts back there, pointing toward the park gate, a few tenths of a mile further away!
  • 9:05: I'm running to the start as the other 109 ten-mile runners pass me in the opposite direction. Someone kindly lets me know that I’m going the wrong way. "I know!" I say.
At last, I joined the runners at the back of the pack. I'd not felt relief of such a high degree since finding the porta-potty five minutes ago! Sure, there was no time for stretching, no time for listening to music, or getting into the "zone" before the race. But, I was there and running the trail.

The Rumble

So, once on the trail, I was faced with the challenge of catching up to the portion of the pack in which I'd normally have started out, somewhere in the middle. On single-track trail, passing people is not always easy or safe. So, I hung out in the back for a while. This turned out to be a good thing, because the slower pace allowed me to catch my breath and slow my heart rate to an ideal level after running so hard from the parking lot and porta-potty.

The first couple of miles were comprised of pretty technical, single-track terrain with a few little hills here and there. It was difficult to pass anyone at this point. But, thankfully, the trail eventually widened to a very comfortable width, and I managed to gain a little headway.

I pushed myself a little harder with each mile, still figuring out this whole race-pace thing. I matched pace with a couple of other runners now and then. But, mostly, I was trying to makeup for the position at which I’d started. I had no idea how many people were ahead of me.

My favorite parts of the race had to be the hills. One big hill in particular allowed for some serious bounding off of rocks and steps. It was awesome.

Two of the toughest hill portions required us to run down and back up the same incline. This was especially challenging at less than a mile to the finish, because the largest hill on the course was right there waiting for us. I'd seen the five-mile runners on their way up this hill as I was bounding down it after passing the 10-mile halfway point. So, I realized I'd have to save some energy for this hill on the way back.

I spent a good deal of mile 7 and 8 all alone. It was an interesting division point in the 10-miler pack. In fact, for a while there, I thought I might have taken a wrong turn. But, I finally saw a runner wearing a bright orange shirt up ahead. I almost blurted that I was glad to see him as I passed. But, I figured that'd just be weird.

From the Raven Rock State Park websiteThroughout the run, I was looking for the scene pictured here. But, I never noticed it. The park is bigger than I expected with lots of trails we didn't cover. So, I'll have to go back sometime to see the actual rock. But, then again, I may not have been looking hard enough. I mean, if you look up too much during a trail run, you're guaranteed to fall down. (I didn't fall this time, by the way)

With less than a mile to go, I was following three other runners up that monster hill that I mentioned two paragraphs ago. The four of us had stuck together for the past half mile or so. And, I was waiting for one of them to make a move to go faster up the hill. No one did. So, I managed to do it.

In retrospect, it's surprising how much energy you can find in yourself once you do it. I know that sounds lame. But, it's true.

Crossing the street and following the ringing cow bell toward the finish line, I made a mental note to declare myself officially ready to get out of marathon-recovery mode. No more weeks full of easy runs. No more wondering if I'd ruined my legs. I was ready for a new training program.

The Epilogue

I finished three minutes later than my other 10-mile race time. But, this course was hillier. And, hey, I started at the back of the pack with no starting mat to cross. So, I don't consider the difference in the two race times to be all that indicative of a loss in speed. I run 10 miles on a trail in about an hour and a half. I've always been relatively not fast. So, finishing in the middle is pretty much the way it's been for me. Fractions of minutes only matter to me, I think, in the case of road races or finishing close to the top.

Raven Rock Rumble red race shirtI didn't qualify for an age group award or any door prizes. But, I'm really happy with the shirt. It's cotton, so I'll wear it as a casual shirt rather than just for running. Kudos to whoever designed the logo for this race.

And, speaking of kudos, I'd like to send a big thank you out to the volunteers who were so helpful to me at this race! The lady who cheered me on at the halfway point and finish, mentioning that I'd been in an accident just before the race: you're my new best friend!

I will definitely look forward to this race next year. And, hopefully, I'll arrive with time to spare.

Note: At press time, the Raven Rock Rumble website did not have photos posted. So, I don't have any photographic proof that I was there yet. But, AC's blog features a few with a link to even more great photos. See what I mean by clicking here.


  1. Hey, great report.
    I was wondering why there was a guy running the opposite way at the start.

    Boy what a bummer! Getting into an accident so close to the race, I would have been stressed too. Sounds like you had a good race even with sprinting a mile before it even started.

  2. Came across your blog on the Runner's World forums. Sounds like a fun race! Great report and great race. Glad you didn't fall. That's always my goal in a trial race.



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