During my last posting, I was feeling strong. Between that time, leading into Traprock gave me good reason to worry. Particularly, the week leading into the race. On a modest 15 mile trail run, I got some cramping in my left leg that forced me to stop in the middle for a spell. Then on Wednesday, a few days later, on my run into work, I felt discomfort come on a mile from the job forcing me to cut the distance in (as I like to add an additional mile near my job) short. As a result, I cut Thursday and Friday out of any running. Just hoped two days of rest would do wonders.
Whats more, with Traprock being a 4 hour drive away in CT, I needed lodging. So, I waited to the last possible minute to book through Priceline. Did I mention, I would be making the drive after work at 4pm on a Friday? Oh yeah. Traffic did not cooperate very well. I was already 1/2 behind schedule just leaving Philadelphia! Then to make it worse, I went 10 miles in an hour on the Garden State Parkway in NJ. Eventually, I rolled into the Courtyard by Marriott in Farmington, CT around 9pm with some Taco Bell dinner. Allow me for a moment, to mention, I would say at this hotel again in a heartbeat. It was so nice. Had generous pool hours, a fireplace in the lobby and located near civilization that was not a truck stop. Having to get up early and be on the road by 7:20 made me sad I would not get to unwind and enjoy all these things. But, hey, I came to run a 50K.
Saturday morning, I loaded myself in the car and headed to Penwood State Park a relaxing 20 minute drive from the hotel. Did I mention it was so relaxing? I show up at the race site and have to park a 10 minute walk from the registration/staging area. It was a great scene with everyone finding their spot to place there bags. Oddly enough, I found a little spot not far from the bottom of the climb/descent that began/ended every loop. I was nervous. Something told me I just didn't feel right. But I always think of this: 'When the gun goes off, all the pain will go away'. I was hoping that would be the case.
After some announcements, we were off at 8:30. Less than 50 meters into the race, we head straight up a serious technical climb. I was 4th up this as a runner took off and sprinted up it. Knowing I had 50K (actually it was longer as the organizers said it was 10.5 miles per loop of which we did 3), I knew not to worry. I methodically made my way toward the front, where Eric introduced himself. He said he wanted space and that adrenaline made him rocket up the first climb. I did my best over the incredibly technical terrain to get solid footing and a smooth stride to put some distance between myself and Eric. It just was not happening. I wasn't going to force the issue not yet. There were points, where I gained some distance only to have it swallowed back up. Repeating this so often began the thoughts of, maybe I am having a bad day. And then.....I fell. Coming off a wooden bridge where we take an immediate right, my right foot slipped. I got up but my psyche was damaged. Yet, I kept going while considering I might not finish. Eric and I hit a broken up road section and he just dropped me hard. At that moment, mentally I was barely hanging on. I let him go but seriously gave thought to dropping out once I finished the first loop. But then on the way into the start/finish, I got a small boost from seeing the 17K runners coming towards me. I also knew I would get a sense of how far Eric was up since he too would have to pass me. When I saw him, I didn't give thought to look at my watch to start timing the gap.
On my way off the descent, I hit my drop bag as it was a straight shot coming out of the loop. I quickly shed gloves, armwarmers and shirt layer leaving me with just my singlet on. (And shorts of course.) Also, I grabbed my small handheld as I checked in and headed back up and out. On each loop there is a lollipop loop where I figured I would have a chance to see Eric again and this time I was prepared for a few things: Time the Gap and if it was big enough: drop. Anything over 5 and I would call it a day. The course was full of suck and I felt like I suffered on the first lap despite covering the distance right on pace. (I set a goal of 1:20 per loop) Entering the lollipop, there is an aid station to check-in (or more like call out your number) where the record keeper encouraged me to 'Go Get Him'. In the loop, Eric passed by me headed in the other direction allowing me to start my gap timing. It was around 4 minutes. It was under 5 so I was living to fight still. Now I was beginning to pass people in the 17K and gaining on the back of packers in the 50K. All this was renewing me some, where I was able to disappear into running my own race despite the difficulty of the course. I made it to the bridge again and this time took it cautious as to not fall. Then my next challenge was the 'road'. As I came onto this section, I checked in with the aid station and could see up ahead...could it be..Eric? It was! I had claimed almost the whole time back. During this stretch, I passed him putting me in first place. Now, I was in a position to time how much gap I had. Out of this loop, I refilled my handheld, checked in and back out for another torturous lap. I will say I ran that lap in the same time I did the first so that felt good.
But once, I had to go up that very first climb, I knew this lap was going to be painful complete with full on suffering. I was not let down. My pace felt slower. Each cut on the trail did not feel smooth. The rocks and roots hurt more. My foot inside my shoe felt like it was sliding around from all the cutting. Despite feeling fully tight at the start of the race, my shoes were looser. And in shoes without a rock plate or solid toe guard this was tough going. I will say even a shoe with those would be chewed up on this course. It was a realization I made in the midst of the first loop when I pondered switching from my Vertical Ks to the X-talon 190s. However, I did manage to time my gap on Eric. 9 minutes. All I knew was I had to hold that gap as long as I could. This was really tested on the course's 'Stairway to Heaven' which is a rocky climb that has some stairs. Each loop requires some hand use to navigate it quickly. I was not looking forward this time. Even more so, I had an audience of hikers who were on it. They all moved to the side for me to go by and became encouraging. Also, gave me around of applause once I crested. It gave me a small boost as I made my way to the lollipop. My goal was to get in and out before Eric (or whoever was running second as third was 5 more minutes behind him at my last gap check) entered. I still timed it. Minimum 8 minutes up with just about half the third loop done. Things were not getting any easier. With 2300 ft of elevation gain per loop, I had more coming. Since the majority of the course was technical, striding to get some speed to use as momentum on the climbs was tough. Suffer-fest was continuing. I was clinging on by a thread hoping and willing myself to be up on time. But I resounded myself that if I was past, I was walking it in as I was beating myself up. I made it to the road stretch for the final time. This time, I paused, gulped some water and dumped the rest on my head. (I needed some fluid that was not Gatorade at that moment.) I was plugging away. Seeing people up ahead gave me some focus to push on and pass. The hikers also reappeared offering more encouragement! Coming off the road section, I just hoped I had 5 minutes up. I knew I would lose time but figured if I had that much up, I could hold on. My pace felt plodding even if it was not all that slow but compared to laps 1 and 2 it sure gave the appearance. At a point, I felt the finish was near, I asked a runner on his way out for a loop, the want it to be over question of 'how far?' 'Half mile.' Yes! I was so close and then not longer after.....I felt again. This time I was scraped up. My toe hooked the underside of an exposed root as I was making a right turn. I got up and kept going until I saw the finish area. Following my last spill I took it really careful on that final descent.
I strode over the finish line in 4:11:03. Not a course record but good enough for the win in a race that I considered quitting multiple times on the toughest course I have ever run. (Okay, maybe Rock'N The Knob is 1st. Both have nasty rock terrain. Except Knob has more runnable patches as its rocks are more concentrated making them suck more since they are at the end in droves.) 2nd place finished in around 4:30 and was not Eric.
After chatting with some people following my finish, I packed up and left to drive 4 hours home. This was a much smoother drive. However, had it not been for the long drive, I would have stayed as the atmosphere of the event is really magical. All the organizer and volunteers made Traprock such a tremendous event, regardless of how much I do not like that course now.
Another 50K down. Back down to some sprint distances for my next few races. I'll call those speed work and recovery. (For the record, I managed to go out for a little more than 6.5 miles today.)