BUT I decided to do it anyhow. I figured I would just treat it as a training run and not really race it. Why the heck not?
I pulled into the Fountainhead Regional Park lot and saw what looked like a lot of hardcore trail running folks. The men in the Virginia Happy Trails Running Club serve as volunteers for the race, and I think most of them have done the Bull Run 50 Miler that I hope I get into next year. I asked if there was a key drop, and people just kind of looked at me funny and one of the volunteers said "Don't you have a place you stash them in your car? I put them in my gas cap." Hmmm..... Ok. Mine is electric so that wouldn't work. I took a deep breath and put them behind the passenger side wheel and hoped for the best.
I lined up at the start -- no chip time here, just everyone off at once. They start the race through the parking lot and paved park entrance for nearly a mile, I think so that people spread out according to pace and the trail isn't so crowded at the beginning. In race tradition, the men serenaded us, and then the clock started. I took off at at an 8 minute pace, which lasted until we veered into the woods. It is single track and for the first few miles a pack of us were right at each other's heels.
I hadn't really looked at the course elevation until last night. Once we hit the "Do Loop" it was pretty much up, down, up, down, up, down. The "ups" were steep. Here's a course profile:
I was definitely still worn out from Louisville. I ran the first "up" and decided I wouldn't be doing that again. So I'd walk the "ups" and side shuffle the "downs" Around this time a woman passed me on a "down" and then fell flat on her face. This trail running thing is totally different than road racing. Another racer and I helped her back on her feet and kept going. I chatted to the three other ladies that were on pace with me, but then I got a horrible side stitch and walked for a few minutes and let them go ahead.
A few minutes out of the "Do Loop" I hit aid station #2. Hmm... only 5.5 miles in and my stomach was not cooperating at all. My right side was not happy. I came to a full stop and checked out the spread -- maybe cola would settle me. And jelly bellies. I know they say not to try anything new on race day, but the Heed from aid station #1 hadn't done me any favors. I topped it all off with some Swedish Fish and headed for Fountainhead.
The next couple miles went pretty quickly, and I caught up with the folks I had let go in the first half. As I neared them, I saw two bridges that cross a steep ravine. They don't have handrails, and as I crossed the first one I saw one of the women lose her footing on bridge #2 and I was terrified she was going to fall straight into the stream. She grabbed the bridge with both arms and ended up spread eagle, but safe. Phew. She said "Oh my gosh I was sure I was going down." Yeah, so was I. Again. Phew.
Everyone was complaining about how hot it was. It was humid, yes -- 93% in fact. But it was only 82 degrees. Not 94. Personally I was in heaven, temperature-wise.
Another mile in, and I could only see one runner. I asked her if she'd ever done this course before, and she said it was her 5th time running it. "So what's the Wolf Shoals section like?" I asked. "It's hell." she replied. And then she took off. I was alone on the trail.
I looked down at my watch and saw that I'd been averaging closer to 10:30s for the past few miles. I already felt like I usually do at the very end of a half marathon. As far as I could see, there was no one behind me and no one in front of me. Had I gone off course? I have a really amazing talent for getting lost on trail runs. I kept going, and then I saw a sign (backwards) that said "1 mile to go." My GPS told me I still had five miles to go, so I figured it must be an out and back. I hadn't seen anyone heading back yet. I had no idea where the other 200+ runners were. I just kept moving.
Somewhere around the time my GPS hit 9.5 miles, I finally saw another human being -- coming towards me. I recognized her from the website -- she was the course record holder. "Way to go!" I yelled.
A few more people passed by, and I finally saw the other aid station. "Number 110!" they yelled. "You're in 25th place."
Up, down, up, down, up, down. Then I finally saw more runners - a lot of runners - heading the other direction. Guess I wasn't doing too badly. I could see no one behind me so I wasn't really motivated to run any faster. I still had the cramp, and on top of that, an excruciating blister on my right foot. (I guess perhaps I shouldn't have raced in the trail shoes I hadn't worn for six months, or at least given them a test run last week.)
Then at 11.5 miles I heard someone behind me. I'd seen her nearly catch up to me on all the "downs" but then she would slow down on the "ups." No more walking the "ups." I only had a mile and half left. I started running. And then I saw more humans! The last third of a mile was all up, and I managed to catch them. I crossed the finish in 2:13
Great finish -- they had homemade smoothies and took requests! I had strawberry pineapple and it was fantastic. There weren't that many people who had finished, so I decided to stick around for the awards ceremony. I doubted I won anything but who knows?
And guess what? I podiumed! I was third in my Age Group ranking, although the overall winner was in my AG so had she been counted, I would not have. I won granola. So much better than a medal. Out of 205 finishers, I was 24th (and 214 started - 9 DNFs.)
I loved the race. I want to do it again. I also really loved the course and think I will be using it for some of my long runs over the year.