Wednesday, August 24, 2016

River Valley Run 15k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 11; 12th Edition 
141.5 miles runs in 2016 races
Race: River Valley Run 15k Recap
Place: Manchester, MD
Miles from home: 2797
Weather: 80s; humid; sunny

As we live through month after month of "This is the hottest April, May, June, July ever!", as a runner it is starting to get a little old. As one who does decidedly poorly in races where it is sunny, or humid, it is downright dangerous. So when the temperature for the day of the River Valley Run 15k called for the highest temperature ever in recorded history for that date in the area, I knew I was not going to have a good day.

Much to the directors of this race's credit, they went above and beyond to be as prepared as possible. First, they moved the start of the race up 45 minutes. Then, I received an email, a text and then an automated phone call telling me of the changes. That, my friends, is how you run a race!

I knew the race itself would be very challenging, regardless of the weather. With large hills to climb, sometimes over treacherous footing, with switchbacks and river crossings, this race would be tough for even a seasoned trail runner. It was also a cupless race which is often done to be more environmentally-friendly.  However, in my own personal preference, if I am paying for a race, I don't want to carry my own liquids. Having said that, in a race such as this, even if cups were provided, you probably should have a handheld with you at least, especially if the weather gets nasty.

Race Morning:

As I mentioned, the race was moved up a bit to accommodate the weather. Then a downed powerline made entrance in to the secluded campground tougher for most. I had arrived much earlier than normal in order to set up my book signing at the post-race festivities and to talk to runners about ASEA. As such, I missed all of that crowdedness and was able, for the most part, to stay cool.  I knew that would not last.

First 3 Miles:

I had once entertained some designs on a top-5 finish in this race. While trail running is hardly my forte, I thought I had a decent shot. When the weather changed, so did my entire outlook for the race. I decided I would be happy with a top 20 finish. With my "A" race of the year coming up next month where I attempt a new half-marathon PR, I wasn't going to jeopardize that with a fall and broken bones (or dehydration and kidney failure) here. As such, when the race started, I was content to simply see how it all unfolded.

That said, the first half of a mile was run out of the starting gates and down the road through
camp. I might not want to run too hard but on what might be the only portion of the race where it suits my strengths, I wasn't going to lollygag. I shot out and was in 5th place. Then we turned, climbed a rocky road, turning again to run in a field up a hill and I said enough of that. Less than four minutes into the race and the first two drops of sweat had already made their way down my head and plopped right onto my Julbo sunglasses. Today was going to get messy.

After the first mile of climb, we dropped through some trail section with some slight difficulty in footing issues. Then we scrambled our way through what appeared to be a campsite, replete with teepees and wigwams. I had ceded a few spots overall in the climb, but as I am wont to do, gained them back on the downhills. I will never cease to be amazed how good some runners are at downhills (me) and how poorly they are at uphills (me.)

A half mile of flat lead us to the second mile and another scalable hill. I was as drenched in sweat at this point as if I had taken part in the ice bucket challenge. Here I decided that I was definitely going to be walking the uphill portions. Fortunately, the course was shaded for the vast majority of the time, otherwise I might have actually died. Here, as I walked up this hill, I could feel the pulsating heat ripping out of my chest, even though I was wearing a white singlet and in the shade. Oy.

A series of small hills, cut through a cornfield gave all a feeling of a solitude, as twists and turns often kept runners just a few feet ahead of you out if sight briefly.  As we approached the third mile, an aid station beckoned. I had already drank well over half of my 20 ounce Camelbak handheld. Double oy.

To Mile 6:

As we did a small loop to head back to the aid station I could see some runners were already way further ahead of me than I would have liked. When we would hit a downhill, I would carefully pick my way through the roots and rocks, all while giving a wide berth to the runners I was passing. Simultaneously, I would be keep an eye open for my footing, lest I become part of the trail.

At the aid station, I found I had screwed the top of my water bottle too tightly to open and wasted precious seconds fumbling with it using my drenched hands. A volunteer offered to allow me to use the tail end of her shirt and I gladly accepted. Bottle open, I filled it with a nice cool drink of some nature and took of again. As more than a few people had passed me during this section I was anxious to make up the distance. With a nice downhill in front of me, I did just that.

A little after 4 miles we had our first stream crossing. This also marked the second time in the race runners could choose between an easier but longer course or a shorter but harder section.  Ever since I chose the easier portion of the Dipsea Race last year, I have decided to always go for harder. I don't think the time saved on the easier sections makes up for how much longer they are. Plus, sweet fancy Mfoses did I need to run through some hopefully cool water.

For the next mile we ran, alongside Gunpowder Falls or the "crick" as people in this area (and my hometown in Pennsylvania) would call it. The footing was wonderful and the terrain flat. However, I knew a hill was coming. We passed underneath a car dealership-sized US flag and I knew that meant we were close to the starting point. That also meant it would be time to climb. Up the switchbacks I mentioned above we went and my heart began pounded with the heat of a thousand suns. As we neared the top, I took off my shirt and wrung it out like a dishcloth. I knew it would become saturated once again but hoped the action would cause for some semblance of cooling.

Down a field we went, with the finish line off in the distance mocking us. A fresh swatch of path had been mowed for runners but on a very steep path, gave us little chance of running fast. A downpour the night before, and the 8000% humidity, had made everything slick. I wasn't going to test my luck as I slowed even on the downhill section. We crossed the road we passed in the beginning (about a tenth of a mile south) and approached what I thought was the last big hill.


Bringing it Home:

As I employed my hill walking strategy, I could hear one or two runners behind me. I stepped to the side on one of the wider sections waiting for them to pass me, but none took the chance. I guess their run wasn't much faster than my walk. 

Over the next mile I had a female on my heels named Maria who was not slow with an encouraging word. She would pass me as I walked on the undulating hills and then I would pass her on the downside. Each time she would say "come on!" as she passed me and I would stay silent as I passed her. Mostly because I assumed she had her race dialed in, somewhat because I didn't have much energy to spare for words.

I saw fellow runner and Facebook friend Matthew Burdette coming back at me on one steep section of downhill and I knew there must be a turnaround up somewhere close. Matthew had introduced himself to me at the start of the race which I appreciated. As most people on race day look a bit different, with sunglasses and hats and facial hair or whatever, it is always nice for them to notice me. I've been the same for years: tallish, ears that stick out, and usually trying to sleep in a few more minutes before the race. We exchanged pleasantries here at mile seven and I steadied myself for the climb up this monster on the way back.

As I powerwalked, Maria passed me again. Half a mile later I passed her. Another dip in the refreshingly cool Gunpowder Falls cleaned off my Karhu Flow 6s which performed admirably on a course for which they were definitely not designed (review of those soon.)

Hopping up the other side, I passed another runner who I had not even seen in front of me. I was feeling good. Another mile to go and this would be all over. Wait. Why are we climbing again? Drat.

Determined to run this hill I took off up the mossy covered stones. A brief respite was given as we passed over what appeared to be the cement foundation of a home but climbing after that is what we did. And again Maria passed me. Good thing I enjoyed looking at her behind as I didn't have a choice. We passed an aid station which, if it had been closer to the path I would have taken part in.  But to go ten yards out of my way at this juncture was not something I wanted to do. When they shouted encouragement of "Just a mile to go!" I almost corrected them. Then I remembered that this was a nine point THREE mile race. Crap.

Fortunately, the last and final downhill appeared. I loped down it like a person very happy to be done and passed Maria. We hit the pavement and I was so excited to be able to run again.  I picked up the pace running the fastest pace in over an hour. Almost immediately my body surged with heat. I felt like I had been tossed into a slow roaster. Maria appeared at my side and said "Let's sprint!" I did a millisecond assessment and realized that any acceleration on my part would not go over well with my whole plan of "Not Dying Today." I said "Go ahead, it's all yours!"  Maria eased ahead of me by five seconds as I dodged some of the other runners in the other distances coming home in 25th place in a time of 1:26:00 on the nose - a full 10-15 minutes slower than I thought it would take.

I headed to pick up my neat fisher's medal and then sat down in the shade at a medical tent. I was
given (as were all) an ice cold soaking wet towel and few things have felt better in my life. A medical staff person asked me if I was OK to which I replied in the affirmative. She handed me a plastic cup with the logo on the race on it filled with ice cold water. That even topped the towel.Walking through the finish, I saw Maria and congratulated her on her awesome finish. I told her I would love to talk more but I had to head over to my table.

I toweled off with the provisions I had brought and sat down to cool down and get ready to sign books. Over the next hour or so I met a dozen or so people and shared some great stories with them as we all expressed amazement at how tough the course was and how hot the day had turned out.  Maria did show up and said "I didn't know I was running with the guy who ran 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends!" I told her, "Actually, you beat the guy who ran 52 Marathons in 52 Weekends!" I think that made her day.

The race was put together, from top to bottom, like a well-oiled machine. It was assuredly difficult even in the best of weather but from the perspective of doing all the things right with regards to design and execution, the race organizers barely missed a step. Without a doubt, you should put this race on your schedule in 2017.

Pray to whomever you pray to that the weather is cooler.

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