The Firebreak 10k and Half Marathon has been around a number of years, put on by Cycle Center and ColaNuts productions. The 10k has been the consistent event, though the half marathon was added for those so given towards masochism. It’s held at Harbison State Forest and features a 6.5-ish mile loop on the firebreak, connector and stewardship trails, one for the 10k and 2 for the half. Being a trail race, distances are not exact.
With the White Knoll Move for the Music 5k postponed to June, I had no excuse not to jump into one of my relatively rare excursions into the woods. Although one might think Sasquatches would be at home in the forest, I am notoriously bad at trail racing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m out in Sesqui several times a week trudging up the brutal entrance road and the even worse sandy trail that parallels said road, i.e Sand Hell. What’s worse it’s also a portal into a den of unspeakable depravity, Jeff Brandenburg’s backyard. But hey, I love the outdoors and it sure beats being nearly run over by texting SUV driving soccer moms in Wildewood. But this is talking about my daily hobby jogging that tries to pass for training. What I’m really bad at is trail RACING.
Trail racing basically comes down to flying through the forest as fast as humanly possible, preferably without busting your ass. I have proven not so good about that last bit, often hitting a spare root when I start getting tired, and filling the air with explosive F bombs. As noted in previous posts, elite trail racers tend to be small, agile little dudes with catlike reflexes. In case you haven’t seen me in person, none of these adjectives have ever been used to describe me. Think stampeding elephant through the jungle.
So for some unknown reason, I thought it a great idea to do Firebreak, and hey, lets do the half just for S’s and G’s. I think it came down to a misguided trophy hunt and perhaps a couple of Yuenglings. I figured I could at least get my long run done on Saturday for once.
I carpooled to Harbison with the Code, who wisely chose the 10k. First thing I notice, basically one step out the door, is that it is ridiculously hot and humid. Felt more like a June morning than late April. GREAT HILLY TRAIL HALF MARATHON weather. Or maybe not. Upon arriving, I’m glad to see the race has gone to regular chip/electronic timing, as it previously was very old school, rip off the bottom of your bib style. Roy Shelley was on hand putting on the Friends of Harbison State Forest Harbison Showcase. I signed up for Friends, because I apparently can’t resist Dina Mauldin hard selling me with a T shirt and a bumper sticker to add to my already prodigious collection on the ’05 Honda Pilot.
Brian Clyburn is there with his dog Tuff, and I’m already having fears of getting the beatdown by someone’s pet (other than JB’s weims of course). Fortunately, he did the Boston and Blue Ridge marathons in the past 10 days, and is taking it easy in the 10k. Dean Schuster is doing the half, though, and I can only expect another epic showdown. Given he is better at the long stuff, on the trails, and on his “home course”, he definitely has the leg up, but probably a good pacer for a while. John Houser, Brigitte Smith, Harry Strick, Micah Simonsen, Henry Holt, Matt Gregory, Ken Bolin, Jim wiliams, Chip Lupo, Quentin and Brie McGrievy, Alsena Edwards, Marion Hinson are some familiar faces at the start. Micah bestowed upon me a 32 oz Reissdorf Kolsch (i.e. my favorite beer of all time) growler can from Green’s and I will forever be in his debt. Something just got added to my post-race hydration plans.
About 2 minutes after the 10k, the Half starts. Up the hill on the gravel road and into the forest we go. There are maybe 40 people in the half, so a pretty small field. A couple of unknown dudes lead the way with Dean and myself a ways back. I stay with Dean for much of the first mile (around 8 20 something) but then have to let him go. Man it is freaking hot. I start getting scared and having flashbacks to my 2012 Xterra half debacle, marked by a shirtless delirium, extended walk of shame and 2:15 finish. So I back down a bit to hopefully save myself from that fate. Almost immediately we start hitting the 10kers since two minutes isn’t much, especially in a 80 degree technical trail race. A lot of dodging and jumping ensue as I try to navigate my beast-like physique not so nimbly around 20-30 10kers. Sorry for the trauma I may have inflicted. Eventually I level out to a comfortable pace and hit some open patches. Water stop at around 3 miles is blasting early 80’s cheesy rock, Toto’s “Africa”, like my favorite song from 1982, i.e. second grade. Awesome. There is actually a good half mile on a trail road that allows us me to stretch out and actually run. Not exactly blazing with around 9 minutes per mile, but I keep reminding myself this is nothing like the roads. The first half of the loop isn’t too bad, but once Stewardship starts, here comes the climbs and nasty switchbacks. At some point I pass the sign for the Spider Woman trail and I’m ever so thankful we don’t have to go through that rocky torture chamber. A couple more miles and I start recognizing the trails near the finish area. Of course, for me, this is just the first loop. There’s a nasty, nasty hill just before the home stretch, and I catch a glimpse of Dean way up ahead. I’d like to push and try to stay with him, but the combo of the hill, the oppressive heat and the psychological misery of knowing you’re barely half done is too much. I hit the finish area for lap 1, and I must look like absolute hell because Code and Ken Bolin are shoving water in my face. I check the time and it’s 58 minutes and change. I made a bet with fellow runner/baseball parent Donna Chen the night before that I would finish under 2 hours, so there was a whole PBR riding on that. Plus, I could never make fun of her instagrammed hashtagged selfies and 14 minute pace runs any more if I failed. It was going to be close.
I head out into lap 2 and I have officially boarded the struggle bus. I can’t push it at all without the engine starting to overheat. I don’t know if it’s worse or better, but I am completely alone. No idea of my position in the race. I’m thinking close to the top, though I’m pretty sure there are a couple of dudes ahead of Dean. No one seems to be behind me. I plow ahead in summer sasquatch mode, shirt pulled over my head and probably looking like a complete maniac. I get a couple of breezes going and I’m able to cool down some from overheating it at the lap 1 finish. Certainly helps to be at least halfway done too. Pace is pretty steady in the low 9’s, but the Garmin has gone completely haywire. It logged an 11-minute mile at some point and now was a good half mile behind the mile markers on the course. Oh well, at least I was now familiar with the loop. I felt significantly better at the mile 3 stop, this time being serenaded by Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart.
The next few miles I kind of zone out, since there’s no one around. Mind starts wandering and I’m trying not to heed Bonnie’s plea to TURN AROUND, BRIGHT EYES. The miles start reeling off and I’m focused on just maintaining pace and hopefully hitting that sub 2. Just don’t Xterra bonk. I get a jolt of adrenaline as I hit the mile 5/Mile 11.5 mark and I start to slowly press the acceleration pedal. Not too much further I hit the hill, and it’s rough. Walksie voices are screaming but I manage to keep trudging. When I hit the top, I take a few moments so that my lungs don’t break out of my chest wall, and start the kick. It’s definitely not a classic 5k blue shoe surge, but its all I have, and I really want to make sure I don’t go over 2 hours. I can’t trust my Garmin, which at this point has had a complete mental breakdown trying to find satellites.
A little over a quarter mile from the finish, there’s a switchback on an open road, and I see a flash of pale flesh. DEAN. My phone-it-in half-hearted kick now becomes an all-out Usain Bolt sprint. Unfortunately, me coming through the woods at full tilt is not exactly stealth, and I catch Schuster glancing to the side in abject horror. He starts kicking it in hard, having suffered the ignominy of being blue shoed, not once, but twice at the Make My Day 12k, each time by about five seconds. This unit of measure among the Harbison trail runners is now known as a McDonald. But Dean is not having it this time. A normally very laid back dude, he is pulling a Blue shoe style all-out headless chicken. Between his surge and the short amount of real estate to the finish, I don’t have a chance. As I break out onto the finish field, I see him cross the line – a full 3.4 McDonalds (18 seconds) ahead. To complete the McDonald act, Dean sprawls out on the grass at the finish, joined shortly by myself at 1:56:01. Good enough for 4th overall, and thanks to Dean, 2nd in the 40-49 ten-year age groups. I’m used to feeling pretty good after a half, but between the heat and trails, this thing beat me down like a red headed stepchild. I was napping like a three-year-old later that afternoon. A three-year-old with a cold 32 oz Reissdorf Kolsch in their belly.
In the 10k, Gabriel Kenne and Brett Knowles took the top 2 slots. Brian “El Capitan” Clyburn surged past a walksie-afflicted Code to take 3rd with dog Tuff in tow. Good prep for next week’s See Spot run. Amber Sherill won for the women, with Alsena Edwards taking 2nd. Maureen Cooper was third. In the age groups, Reese Petruzzi and Quentin McGrievy were top 2 in the 14 and under. Matt Gregory won the 30-39. Micah Simonsen was 3rd in the 40-49, while Ken Bolin and Jim Williams were 1st and 3rd in the 50-59. In the very wide 60-99 group, Mike Compton, Henry Holt and Harry Strick swept the male category while Brigitte Smith was tops among the women.
In the Half, David Haron and Troy Lee took the top 2 slots, with Dean third. Ashlyn McConnell missed the start by 20 minutes but won anyway among the women (though by chip time). Kendra Harden and Sara Campbell were 2nd and 3rd. In the age groups, Russel Grant was 3rd in the 20-29 and Marion Hinson was 3rd in the 40-49.