This is the second year of the Xterra half and 5k at Harbison State Forest. I’ve come to the conclusion that Xterra prides itself on super tough courses, because I about died last year en route to a 23:40 something 5k last year that I think was still top 10. Although I had no problem with the 5k course in 2011, the half became completely derailed with the leaders missing a turn and people literally coming out of the forest everywhere. I had a couple of friends who had to be “rescued” by a truck as they were still wandering the trails 14+ miles in.
Everyone I talked to about the half, even those that correctly ran the course, said it was beyond brutal. So of course I had the grand idea that I had to run it too. I signed up for the race despite doing no specific training for it and knowing I would probably do a race on the 4th as well. My grandiosity and poor decision making apparently know no bounds. I did take one day off, so there’s your planning.
As karma payback for making fun of my brother’s lateness, I was running out the door this morning way later than I wanted and got to the race site about a half hour before the race time of 7 am. I knew this was going to be rough , because it was already about 80 degrees with suffocating humidity. I got my race bib and headed to the bathroom, where I was met with a most unpleasant sight. There were two huge lines for both men and women, and I realized they still didnt fix the ridiculous bathroom situation from last year. 300+ runners and exactly one toilet for the guys. Nice. After waiting 10 minutes and essentially going nowhere, and noting the start was eight minutes away..lets just say Harbison State Forest got fertilized. And dont just blame me, because it was a freaking poopapalooza out there.
I actually didnt see a whole lot of familiar faces – the xterra series draws a lot of out-of-area people and the trail running crowd tends to be different from road racers. Greta, Sarah B, Ted, Geary, Colleen and Ken Vowles, Jim Lichty, Jen and Brian Clyburn were all there, though half of them were wisely doing the 5k.
My strategy was to try and take it very easy early on in order to save some for the middle of the course, which I had heard was pretty miserable. I had done a 1:44 at the Rudolph’s Rampage half at Harbison in December 2010, so I figured I could at least go sub 2 hours, maybe do something similar to the 1:44 since I was slower 2 years ago.
With the start I didnt have much of a choice, because I got clogged behind a freaking sweaty conga line once we hit the single track. I figured it would be OK, since it would save up some energy for later. First mile was 8:45, a little slow I thought, but acceptable since I hadnt warmed up at all. Mile 2 was already hitting some pretty technical stuff on the trail and the pace backed down to 9 something, so I tried to pick it up some. This is when I got the first inkling that there was going to be some serious suckage later. Felt about 100 degrees and like I was breathing through a wet washcloth. Whats worse I got double chicked in the matter of 30 seconds. The mental weight of 10 miles to go didnt help things. Finally hit the first aid station and tried to suck down as much water as I could. I had actually brought my own water bottle, but just over 3 miles in and I had already drained it. As I’ve noted previously, restraint is not my forte. I did manage to keep up with my new closest friends “put the hammer down” shirt guy, tall guy, short tan girl, and fit masters guy. Everybody’s pace was all over the map, so we kept passing and re-passing each other. I managed to keep up a semblance of a steady run for the next two miles, but I could feel the foundation starting to crack. I did manage to choke down an espresso love GU, right after mile 5, which had already dived back into the nines again. Then we hit some serious hills, so I figured this had to be the “Spider Woman” trail that I had heard so much about. People started walking. Ha ha time to pass them, right? WRONG. Suddenly I can feel a wicked walk of shame coming on myself. And then it happens, and I’m reduced to a soccer mom in the mall on a Tuesday morning. Holy crap, am I really walking again in a race? It was hard enough to take doing it at the Quarry Crusher, but that was a mile and a half of 10 percent grade. At least no one is passing me. I’m actually catching up to some people with my awesome power walking skills. Who knew I had such a hidden talent for being so slow. I do try and run all the flats and declines though. This is fine when youre feeling good and lifting your feet in a normal fashion, but I am hitting roots constantly. I literally almost bust my ass about 30 times, but somehow catch myself without pulling a Sarah Blackwell style wipeout. I am definitely resetting the Harbison State Forest world record for F bombs, with some other random obscenities thrown in for good measure. Each near trip sending out an uncontrollable Tourettes style blast.
After enduring some hilly torture for some time, I finally hit a nice little stretch, and I see the sign for the start of the Spider Woman. More F bombs. My previous time goals are going way out the window, and now I’m just thinking of surviving or finishing. In that order. Surviving, because I havent had any water in like 4 miles and I am ready to go Bear Grylls (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81FLsMZB2Fw) here in a second if I dont get any water. Finally I hit the 2nd aid station just short of 8 miles. I start laying waste to this place, double fisting water and gatorade, total Irish handcuffs. Off comes the shirt, which apparently where all the lost water went, because the thing weighs like 5 pounds. My mile 8 split is a blazing 13:15. I honestly dont recall the next few miles , as I was half delirious. At some point I become aware that the whole Spider woman thing must be over, because the course starts to get a little more level. This is irritating, because now it means I dont have an excuse to walk. That doesnt mean I dont use every half percent grade to do it though. Finally I hit another root at about the mile 10 marker and get really pissed and decide I need to run to get this thing over with. I figure I can break 2:15 if I can,as Tenacious J would say, HTFU. I run, as in not walk, the 11th mile at 10:03 which feels makes me feel like I’m freaking Scott Jurek. I actually start passing people again, first tall guy and then short tan girl, both of whom had long left me in their dust, but now had both caught a case of the walksies. Then I start throwing down at mile 11. That usually means sub 6 pace, but today apparently it means blazing away at 9:30. This is fast enough however, to pass a bunch more people. I hit mile 12 and theres a cluster of completely confusing signs. I head off in one direction and have a painful realization I might be headed off on loop number 2 of this sufferfest. Oh hells no. I turned back around, and sure enough I had gone the wrong way and had given up my position to everyone I passed in the last mile. Just awesome. I start hauling it once I make it back on course and re-pass everybody on our little caravan of pain again. I have no idea where the finish is going to be, because my Garmin hits 13.1 and I dont know where I am. But I have a sense its close though, so I start sprinting. I pass Ken and Colleen Vowles at what turns out to be less than a quarter mile from the finish. They later said they thought I must of gone way off course, but in reality I think they were ahead of me the whole time. I finally reach a familiar clearing and see Ted and Rocky cheering me on, so I jump over a log and kick it to the finish, 2:14:25. 50th place out of 236.
Wow. Just totally spent – walked around in a haze for a good 5 minutes. One might think this is a one and done, but I’m sure this suffering will fade and I’ll be trying again next year. Apparently nothing motivates me more than failing abysmally at something. But next year I’ll bring toilet paper.