Monday, June 9, 2008

Recap From The Need For Speed Relay Race

Wow! That was SOME crazy adventure we had on the trails today. The Need for Speed relay race turned out to be more about strattling the fine line between persistence and survival then about running fast. Parts of the race course was completely exposed to sun, and the course temperature topped out at 95°F with a reported heat index of 105°F. The sun and humidity definitely took some casualties today. By the middle of the afternoon (when we were just about to start the last leg, coincidentally) they had to shut the entire course down and cancel the rest of the race due to the alarming number of runners who needed medical attention suffering from severe dehydration and/or heat stroke (Of course, the race officials neglected to tell us that when he collected our chips and disbanded us in the last transition area, leading to false rumors of an impending thunderstorm amongst the running teams!). As such, our team race results never became official since we never crossed the finish line. What a bummer because everyone on my team (Flyer Black) fought hard and battled through the heat and humidity to run a great race. I was especially disappointed because I never got to see our anchorwoman (nyflygirl) greeted and cheered upon by our awesome team as she flies across the finish line on the way to capturing an award of some kind for our team! (Yeah, she probably would’ve had to run much faster than a personal PR to get there – but really, we didn’t have any doubts that she would’ve pulled it off if given the opportunity…) That would’ve been classic! Instead, I’m left to personally ponder what might have been (would she have crossed still blog-texting on her Treo or taken off her singlet in celebratory triumph like Brandi Chastain…or both?!) and reflect on my individual performance in leg 3 of the race…which, although no longer official, was still interesting and somewhat memorable…

I got quite anxious waiting for RB (my leg 2 teammate) to arrive at the transition area so I could start my 9+ miles through the woods. Because this was not only my first relay race but also my first trail race, I didn’t know what to expect. What I did know was that our team was close to pulling up the rear at this point of the race and needed me desperately to make up some time. Still, I was well aware of the fact that the sun and humidity had already taken a heavy toll on all the runners who had run legs before me. Run fast, run conservative became my mantra for of the day. After what seemed like forever, RB suddenly comes dashing over from the wrong side of the transition area, swipes the chip, hands me the race bracelet, and I was off.

Leg 3 was described to me as of 9.3 miles of running through trails and roads. As I head into the woods, and away from the transition area, I suddenly realize that I’m very much alone. Other than a few sparse signs and the vague resembling of a dirt trail, there’s nothing here to suggest that I am in a race, or even exist, at all. The initial experience was quite surreal at first, and it took a little while for me to collect my bearings and settle down. I told myself that I’d just take it easy through the first few miles through the woods and not worry about pacing until I had established a better sense of how to run trails. A quarter of a mile in and I’m beginning to feel a bit more comfortable maneuvering through the woodland. I’m holding my own running on grass, jumping over puddles and avoiding obstacles when suddenly the trail stops and there’s no next arrow. If anyone’s ever been lost alone in nature with no connection to the outside world, you’d know, it ain’t fun. Trying hard not to panic, I force myself to slow to a walk and retrace my steps. Luckily, the extra fork in the road I took wasn’t so far back and I was on my way again about a minute later. After that initial snafu, I was able to regain my momentum pretty quickly and resumed running.

After a half-mile run through an open bridge above the Croton Dam (the view on the way over was amazing…the heavy beatdown by the sun directly overhead…not so much!), the rest of the leg was mostly on dirt and grass trails in heavy wooded areas. Although the elevation map would have you believe that most of the course was even or sloped slightly downhill, I could have sworn that I was running upwards the whole way through. It seemed like whenever we came to a fork on the road with an uphill and an downhill portion, the course direction arrow almost universally pointed skywards. The most dramatic example of this came somewhere in mile 5 when the trail suddenly disappeared into the middle of a wall of dirt. In order to continue, one must walk/climb about 100 feet straight up. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment! The funniest thing was when I reached this portion of the course, there were two other runners already there, standing with hands on hips, staring at the monstrosity. They were in the middle of contemplating of how to proceed when they saw me scurrying by. I slowed to a stop and looked at them. They looked at me, looked at each other, and then said to me. ”Please, please, go ahead!” I wanted to double-check and ask again for their permission, but their heavy panting and painful grimaces told me all I needed to know. So I took the climb with a few quick and steady strides and went again on my way. I didn’t think I’d see those two again. But about a half mile later, after a quick turn onto a paved road that led downhill (finally!), I came upon a busy intersection with no race official or direction arrows pointing which way to go. That’s when I realized that I’d again lost my way and again needed to retrace my steps. The trek back uphill was even more painful then I’d imagined. What made it even more depressing was when I saw my same two pals from before streaking down the hill right past me. I yelled back “Hey, you’re going the wrong way!” but by the time they heard me, they had already reached the intersection and came to the same conclusion I did. Because I felt bad that I had led both of them astray, I waited at the top of hill for their acknowledgment before continuing back onto the trail.

Eventually, after 8 miles of endless and mindless conservative running through the trails, I got back onto paved roads for the final 1.3 miles. Although there was still one brutal series of back to back steep uphills that required some energy to battle through, I was for the most part, extremely excited and glad to be back to running on pavement. I blistered the finally 1.3 miles at sub 7 min/miles to finish my 9.3 (turned 10.3 because of all the mishaps) mile adventure at 1:18:26 before turning my chip over to my next teammate.

In summary, I have to say it was a fun but humbling experience running through the woods. I didn’t realize how accustomed I had been to roadracing until today when I had to run on a completely new surface. I had a great experience and learned a lot on my trail run. I vowed that this will not be my last battle with the trails, and will be back for more real soon.


nyflygirl said... Treo was in my bag and my singlet had been chucked hours ago. but i have been known to "pull a Brandi Chastain" after crossing the finish line of ridiculously hot races :)

Great having you on Team Black this year!! Once you go never go back!! Great description of your leg too-especially "The Wall"!

Run For Life said...

Isn't it crazy how different trails and pavement are? Sounds like you did pretty well given the heat, Congrats!

Xenia said...

That sounds hellish! Well done on your leg. Hopefully the weather cooperates a bit more next time.

Laura said...

Lam, great job in what sounds like a VERY tough race!

I forget if I've mentioned this to you before, but Albany Running Exchange is doing a summer trail running camp from July 17-21 up in the Adirondacks. I'm signed up - any interest in joining?

sRod said...

Forgot to do this yesterday: I've tagged you.

jb24 said...

Incredible job out there! You were able able to make up a lot of ground for the team in stifling heat. I'm glad that you were able to join Team Black and that you enjoyed your first relay race. Now just relax.

Debbie said...

Congrats on your race...despite the cancelled finish. Sounds like you had a good experience. I worked a trail race a couple months ago and the lead runners ended up getting seriously lost. But what would a trail race be without getting a little lost in the woods!

The Laminator said...

Nyflygirl - Loved having you as our glad I got picked to be "Black"

Run For Life - Thanks. Yeah, I didn't realize how different surfaces can affect your running so much...I think I'm going to start running on more grass and trails to prepare for next year!

Xenia - Yes, the weather was totally insane. Everyone was comparing the race conditions to the Chicago Marathon from last year. I'm just glad that everyone on my team made it back okay.

Laura - Sounds interesting. Send me a link to the website, I'll take a look. Hope it's not too intense though because i'm supposed to be tapering for San Fran marathon during that time.

sRod - Dude, isn't there a penalty for tagging me one day too late!

jb24 - I was glad to be part of the definitely was a very exhiliarating experience. I can only imagine how much more fun this relay would be if weather wasn't such a factor!

Debbie - Trail races are definitely fun, but getting lost in the woods is definitely not. I think for the next one, I must make sure to stay back and run with a pack.

runner26 said...

Super description of your leg! I heard about "the wall" but now I have a good visual to go with it. Sounds like you ran a very solid race--despite the mileage creeping up on you.

It was nice meeting you...and now I finally get why you're called the Laminator ;)

Laura said...

Lam, the link is here. Let me know if you decide to do it!

Anonymous said...

Trail running is fun and is much different than running the roads. Glad you had a nice time and enjoyed it. I am surprised they didn't do a better job marking up the course.

Nitmos said...

I will second the notion about trail running being different. It beat my legs up the first time I made that transition!

bill carter said...

Hi Lam

That whole thing sounds like a nightmare. As you know from my most recent post that whole running in the heat thing is just scary. When you factor in a poorly marked course that is out in the woods... that could lead to a life threatening situation and the race organizers should be ashamed of themselves. Glad to hear everything is ok and that was a nice 9.3.. I mean 10.3 with a dirt wall.

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