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We didn’t even know if this event was going to happen. As we all stood under tents like little sheep staying dry from the rain, waiting to hear the word, the thought of the race being cancelled had never actually crossed my mind. Then the race director, after nearly half an hour delay said we were all going to start together (not the staggered start that was planned) and that we all had to be ready to be pulled off the course at any time. The issue, which once the RD said it, made perfect sense, was the wind. We were in a forest with huge, tall trees and limbs were down all around, we saw them along the trails and even on the roads as we drove in. He said, “If someone dies out there, we’ll never be able to run here again”.
So after no warm up and standing in a tent for 40 minutes we all hurried to the start line and were off, not knowing if we’d run 2 miles or 31. At this point, I was simply happy to be running.
I went out comfortably fast, letting the really fast folks go after it, hoping they weren’t in the 50k. I passed some young guys and a few others in the first few minutes and after about 5 or 6 minutes, I was by myself, which is how the rest of the race would be for me.
It was a mudfest out there, absolutely ridiculous. While the winds and rain were not bad under the forest canopy, the ground was saturated with huge puddles having already formed. At one point in the first mile of the 5.2 mile loop that we ran 6 times, we climbed a hill that had been covered in straw to make it less muddy. The straw had so much water in it that my shoes were quickly soaked through.
Despite the mud, I was able to get out pretty fast, dodging puddles and moving quickly when the course permitted. This was the case as I cruised through the first 2 laps (10.4 miles) in around 68 minutes, skipping the aid station both times and eating one Gu per lap.
On lap three everything changed. The race, which was supposed to start at 3:10pm and started a good 20 to 30 minutes later than that, was meant to be run in the dark. Running in the dark on slippery, sloppy trails is a really tough challenge for me. My speed went way down, dropping from averaging around 34 minutes per lap to 40 minutes. There were a few spots on each lap when I was able to open it up and run fast because the trail was clear, but generally, I found myself picking my way cautiously through the course, running gingerly at times to avoid any major missteps. While careful, I generally went right through the puddles as evidenced by all the mud on me and my shoes.
Competitively, I wasn’t really sure where I was placing the entire race. Someone on lap two that I was lapping said I had two in front of me but that could have been relay runners or 10 milers. Based on my time over the first couple laps, I felt like there was a good chance I was leading. Over the last few laps I was passed by two guys and they were quick to confirm they were relay guys.
Everyone out on the course was friendly and there was a real sense of camaraderie out there as we all went through this wild experience together. One guy I passed made my day. He said, “I know you, you’re the guy from the Grand Ridge race. You lapped me there too you son of a bitch!” laughing as he said it. I felt good out there and kept my pace under control, trying to keep good form while running anything but a consistent, normal stride due to the conditions.
I finished the race in 3:45.51, sat down for a minute to rest, walked over to the aid station to eat something, found the PB&J sandwich appetizing, and then went to the timing booth to find out if anyone had finished ahead of me. They said I was first, though there seemed to be some confusion about finishing times at the moment. I ran the course in 3:45.51. The RD handed me a big horseshoe for an award, and though I often like to hang around the finish line well after the race is over, on this night, covered in mud and getting cold quickly, we knew it was time to get out of there. We picked up some Thai food on the way home as I changed out of my wet racing clothes and into dry sweats and clean, dry shoes.
Thankfully, my left knee, which has been a slight issue after previous long runs over the last month, didn’t bother me at all. My right knee was a little sore but I maintained full joint flexibility throughout and through the night. The right knee is stiff today and my foot is sore, but overall, I feel great giving what I just put my body through. My new Pearl Izumi N2 Trail shoes, which I had never run in until this race, took a major beating but held up strong.
I also tested out my new Salomon pack to prep for RR100. I didn’t carry any water but it worked wonderfully well for carrying my headlamp, gels, and garbage. I am normally stashing gels in my gloves, arm sleeves, and calf sleeves, while dropping my gel tops in my shorts liners and carrying my trash to the next aid station. The pack fit perfectly and actually kept me warmer out there. Along with the new PI trail shoes, the pack makes for another great find heading into my next big race.
And because of having the pack, I never needed anything from Julie as I came racing through the start area on the last few laps. She was the dutiful crew, having finished her 10.4 mile race (we think in 3rd place female in 1:24.37), getting dried off, and then being ready with anything I may possibly have needed out there. She will be great crew at RR100; I have no doubts.
So despite the crazy winds and a ridiculously muddy course, the race happened, it was a blast, and it was another good step towards a hopefully very successful Rocky Raccoon 100 experience in three weeks down in Texas.