As I realized earlier last week that the 2012 Raven Rock Rumble had not yet sold out, my registration finger started to get twitchy. With the denial of my Uwharrie registration still fresh in my brain and a satisfactory time trial just completed on Loblolly, I had a hankering for a dose of race-day adrenaline. So, bam, I registered.
You may not know this, but the Raven Rock Rumble and I have a history. It's nothing personal. It's just that I had a little trouble getting to the race in a timely fashion when I ran it previously in 2010.
So, with that history in mind, my primary goal for this race was to just get there on time and without incident. Fortunately, I managed.
Saturday morning was bright and brisk at Raven Rock State Park. There was a slight breeze to punctuate the 40-ish-degree temperatures, which made waiting for the start and hanging around at the finish a little uncomfortable. But, it was perfect for running.
I ran the three-quarters of a mile from the parking lot to the start area twice as a warm up—maybe to kill time, too. Then I found Anthony and Shannon yukking it up and being encouraging at the start line. Shannon was snapping photos in expert fashion while I assured Anthony that there was no danger of me stepping on his heels.
The horn sounded and we followed the lead bike across the parking lot to the trail. I secured a position behind that tick-shirted runner as we crossed from pavement to trail. And, I was amazed to see that the single-track in this first part of the race had been cleared of leaves. So luxurious!
I lost sight of Anthony after about a mile when I slowed a bit to scold myself for starting out a teensy-weensy bit too quickly. Then I was by myself for a while.
It was very serene out there with the sun filtering through all the orange and red foliage still clinging to the trees. And, much of the single-track after mile one was still covered in leaves. So, the powers that be kept it real for us, too, terrain-wise; which is important, I think, in a trail race—keeping it real.
The ting-tang sound of music emanating from headphones gradually grew more conspicuous behind me. Then I heard footsteps trailing me. And, I had to accept responsibility for keeping more than myself on track for a while. I half listened to the music. Was that Nickelback? I stepped to the side so that the music lover could pass. Quiet again.
Anticipating the infamous Fish Trap Trail hill in the middle of the course, I refrained from going wild with energy during the first few miles. And, I'm glad I did, because that hill was harder to climb than I remembered. Bounding down those steps and over rocks was still my favorite part of the course. But, climbing back up from that descent just really took a lot out of me.
In fact, all the hills at Raven Rock seemed tougher for me this time. Maybe it was because I started faster. Maybe I wasn't as well trained for this race as I'd thought. Who knows, really. It certainly couldn't hurt for me to run more hills during training.
So, with the Fish Trap Trail hill behind me, I followed a yellow-shirted runner to the halfway-ish point with the aid station and the people cheering and taunting and saying stuff like, "There are two girls in front of you! You don't wanna get beat by girls, do you?" 'Course, I knew that the person saying this was kidding—not that I have a problem with being bested by a girl, mind you.
I traded positions with the yellow-shirted guy for the remainder of the race. Another runner (not this "another runner") in NB MT110s also leap-frogged with us for the last five miles until he eventually took the lead in front of me.
The course was really magnificent as far as Piedmont-area trails go. I almost wished that I wasn't in such a hurry to finish running. And, I really hoped to see that rock outcropping for which the park was named. But, no, I didn't see it.
(It was later decided in a conversation with Duncan Hoge, aka first-place Duncan, that the official Raven Rock was just outside the scope of our course that day)
As we closed the loop on the west side of the course, a final daunting climb separated us from the last stretch to the finish. And, that climb was ginormous. I'd been hoping that some mysterious reserve of energy would open and propel me up that last hill for a strong finish.
But, no. I plodded steadily with tiny steps over the rocks and roots in the wake of the NBMT110 runner. There would be no fight to the finish between me and him. But, the relief I felt after crawling over that hill and onto flat ground was enough to make me pick up the pace as much as I could until reaching the line. Volunteers cheered. And, I silently thanked them for that.
As I crossed the finish line with a 16-minute PR over my 2010 time, a photographer from On the Mark Sports snapped a picture; which, apparently, bewildered the hell out of me. (I need to work on my reaction to cameras on the race course. Because, I swear, I didn't feel as grumpy as this expression might make me appear)
So, aside from being terrible at posing for pictures, I've learned that I need more hill work. There seems to be a difference between being good at running hills and being good at running the same hills. Know what I mean?
Thanks again to the volunteers and race personnel who make this rumble happen. Packet pickup was a breeze. And, the post-race replenishment tables were stocked with a marvelous array of carbs.
Thanks to Anthony and Shannon for being so encouraging at the start of the race. This is probably the second time I've ever talked to someone before a race.
Oh, and, reader, if you call yourself a trail runner, you'd better be running this race next year. The course is fantastic!