Monday, November 16, 2015

Roughed Up Beyond All Recognition

Discretion being the better part of valor, I'm happy with my decision to run the 22k+ version of the Rough Trail Ultramarathon.  I almost ended up doing the 50k anyway.  It was an accident.  I didn't do a good job reading my event emails and was unaware that the 22k race started at 9:00 and not at 7:00.

Al was kind enough to let me know.

"I didn't think you were doing the 50k," he said in surprise when I found him in the crowd as the field formed up at the start line.

"I'm not," I said from deep in oblivion.

"Well...the 22k starts at nine."

At least I didn't have to worry about not getting into the port-a-john before the start.  I did have to worry about staying warm for two hours.  It was seasonably cold on Saturday morning.

Pre-race meeting
The 22k field lined up at the start facing the wrong way
 The start ended up being anticlimactic.  The initial pace was almost slow, though I pushed myself pretty hard for the first five miles.  We ran out Koomer Ridge with a detour on the Hidden Arch Trail and then on toward Buck Trail.  I was hoping the field would spread out before the descent into the Right Fork of Chimney Top Creek. 

Unfortunately I was held up by more timid descenders.  In the bottoms I was able to improve my position somewhat with a dancing pass at each creek crossing.  I was afraid those I had overcome would dog me up the Buck-U climb, but oddly I was able to increase the gap between myself and the mid-field.  I was definitely lagging behind the leaders.  To give away the ending somewhat, after leaving the creek along Buck Trail I basically ran by myself with only a few brief encounters with other runners for the remainder of the race.

Once I had gained the ridge I anticipated reaching the Gray's Arch trailhead.  Mandy and the kids were manning the first aid station there with Friends of Powell County Pets. It was along the section of Pinch Em Tight Ridge leading to the trailhead where I finally began feeling the effects of my lazy training regime.   

I only lingered long enough to shed my undershirt, gloves, and headband.  Then I was off for the finish so many miles thence.
The trails are familiar to me.  I've run them all in the past couple of years.  And this year I have spent more time on Rough Trail itself and running in the Martin's Fork and Gray's Arch area.  I was a bit disappointed that I didn't have the pluck to really hammer along like I'm used to.  But by the time I started down into King Branch I was in survival mode.  I knew my knees were coming apart.  I knew I couldn't slam down all of the brutal descents ahead of me.  In total there were five typical Red River Gorge descents and climbs and a sixth that was lesser in severity (the Hidden Arch detour). 
Climbing up to Rush Ridge two weeks ago
A “typical” RRG trail climb is about four hundred feet of gain in 0.3 to 0.4 miles.  Along Rough Trail those type of climbs come with little recovery and separated by equally brutal descents.  Rough Trail is rough.  The profile looks like a ragged rusty saw blade.  The trail surface is criss crossed by gnarly pine roots, half buried sandstone rocks, and at this time of year covered by a thick carpet of fallen leaves.

The last climb was Cuss Joe Hill. I plodded up, reflecting on this trail running journey I've been on.  I was all alone.  No one overtook me after I left Chimney Top Creek.  I didn't overtake anyone else in the last two miles either.  I had a lot of time to think.  My body was screaming at me, and I had to fight to quiet the noise.  I was weary, beaten down, but resolute to reach the finish. 
I don't think there was a single moment on Saturday that I considered not finishing the race. I guess it was a possibility at any given point.  I rolled my ankle painlessly once.  That scared me.  But I was over-careful as I ran on the late autumn trails.
The last mile felt it.  I didn't have much more to give when I finally crossed the finish line after a deceptively long wend through the campground on the paved roads and a final short climb on a trail up to the amphitheater.  And there at the finish was my beautiful wife.  I joked that I took so long getting in to give her a chance to get from her aid station to the finish before I got there.
Out of fifty-six 22k racers I came in 18th overall.  I was 3rd in my age group (40-49) and 5th of everyone over 40 years old.  My official finishing time was 3:33:38 for 14.7 trail miles.
The physical toll wasn't too bad.  The ongoing mantra these days is: "I've done less and felt worse."  It's true.  Somehow I'm beginning to plateau and not lose too much when I fall back to "normal" fitness levels.  I've learned a lot about endurance activities in the past six years or so.  I have so much more to learn. 
Right now I'm not signed up for any events.  I want to throw my name in the hat for Leadville next year.  I think I want to do the Mohican again.  But for now there's nothing on my horizon and I think it feels pretty good.  I want to spend the winter getting in shape, finally losing the weight, and working on building some world class mountain bike trails.
Hanging out in Pine Ridge Saturday night


  1. Congrats on getting through it. I totally believe you took it slow so they could be there at the finish for you! You've had a great year, event-wise. Look at all that you have accomplished.

    1. Thank you! Yeah, I'm not unsatisfied with my year. Next year I want a different focus though. Leadville. Or not.