Monday, August 3, 2015

Not Since Moses 10k Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 15th Edition 
174.1 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Not Since Moses 10k
Place: Five Islands, NS
Miles from home: 3638
Weather: 60s; Sunny; a bit windy

This year in racing for me has been about testing boundaries, searching out iconic races, and finding hidden gems. Traveling and racing completely different styles of race hardly leaves me in good racing shape as I go from a 50 miler in the mountains of Utah to a 10k on Bourbon Street. Yet, what I am lacking in race results, I am making up in the realm of racing experiences. No where would this experience count be so more obvious than at the bottom of the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia this weekend.

It has been a few years since I heard about this race called Not since Moses. The time between me hearing about a race and me getting to run can often be many years.  Often this lag is because of my own commitments, years will pass before I get to a race that is on my to do list. (Off the top of my head I can think of ten that have been there for a decade.)  But this time, it was not my fault.  It was the moon's.

The Not Since Moses race is run in one of the most unique places in the world: the Bay of Fundy. Its uniqueness comes from the fact that twice a day, the tides completely empty thousands of square miles of the ocean floor. The brainchild of a Californian, Dick Lemon, who moved to Nova Scotia and fell in love with the area, Not Since Moses can only be run in certain conditions to guarantee runner safety. The 2014 addition did not have a weekend in August (when it is traditionally held) that met all the safety criteria.  As such, while I had thought about running it last year, I would have had to do it solo, as there was no race. Luckily, the solo satellite orbiting our pale blue dot cooperated this year and I got to join hundreds others in traversing the sand.

Getting to Nova Scotia is not necessarily the easiest thing to do when coming from Portland but some traveling snafus made it even more difficult for me. While time changes (a four hour difference for me) and jetlag are usually things which bother me little, they hit me hard on this trip. An extremely fitful night of sleep on the night before the race, which I only mention because of its rarity for me a normal heavy sleeper, had me wondering if I would even complete 6.2 miles of racing. I woke up the morning of and just sat in the edge of my bed. I knew I could run the 5k if I wanted to but wanted to experience the entirety of this natural wonder. And in reality, the hardest part wasn't running. The hardest part was getting out of the bed. If there is a more perfect encapsulation for the struggle with many things, I don't know what it is.

In the previous day I had already seen what is really hard to believe with my own eyes. Tide coming in so fast and over such a vast area that even a brisk walk doesn’t keep the water from nipping at your heels is the stuff that tsunami movies are made. After being dropped off by buses for a short walk down a private drive, runners take a set of old wooden stairs to what would normally be the bay. But here, at 7 a.m. in the morning, you are walking on the ground. You can see the water line, well above your head, on the walls around you. It is almost unsettling when you realize what will happen in a few hours. If not for having actually seen the water filled in here previously, it would almost be hard for me to believe there could be such a difference in where the level would go.

Runners gathered in the gravel and mud and, like me, make at least one trip back up to the portapotties at the top of the stairs. With bathrooms at the place where the buses picked you up as well, the race was covering all their bases. It was indeed a nice touch to have so many places to make sure you were comfortable come race time. Speaking of which, as the 7:45 a.m. approached, the official race director simply climbed aboard a rock, sat down cross-legged and talk to all of, rapt with attention.  It could not look more Moses like if it tried.  Then, for a brief few minutes, a local geologist told us about the rock formations and how unique they were with a history of how they got to be there. Some smartass asked him when he was done if any of this was going to be on the test. (I was that smartass.) Soon we were ready to begin.

The RD jumped down, drug his heel in the stand for a starting line and we all lined up. It was time to start.

To The Stairs:

We started our jaunt by running across the timing mat (I am kidding; although we did have a timed finish) and then hanging a sharp left around the rocky abutment. Runners would simply head straight as possible over the sand to a fishing weir which I learned is a type of trap to catch fish. There, a woman with a flag would be waiting for us and as we ran around her we would make a 180 degree turn and then head back toward the start.  However, our return trip would be closer to the water and therefore more challenging because of the softer sand and mud. The first portion of this run gave a small taste of what was to come footing-wise as the hard-packed, but still wet and mushy sand, definitely added an element of difficulty.

Personally, I had no idea what to expect time-wise from this race. I also didn’t know if the baker’s dozen of runners who went out in front of me did either and whether I should try to stay with them. What I could tell was that they were all, at least at this point, better than me at running in this uneven footing. I was simply trying to pick and choose where to go. Sticking to the advice I gave the previous day to runners at the
packet pickup, I was not being first. I figured allowing a good 6 or 7 people to run in front of you would allow you to find the easiest route through the muck. Fortunately, the faster runners made sure I stuck to that plan.

The squishy sand was interlaced here and there will a small bit of standing water or small rivulets ebbing out into the bay. Also, as was the case in many places through the race, the floor was not flat but rather made up of small rolling waves of sand dunes. These foot-high embankments would provide quite a bit of challenge to me and many other runners throughout the day. It felt as is a rug had been bunched up at one end and you were forced to run over every one of the waves.

Back to the Start (and More!)

A few runners had seriously separated themselves from the pack and I could tell that they were serious about racing. Any potential though about taking home the lead place went the way of the two or three guys who bolted ahead. A small pack of about 4-5 was a ways behind them and then I was in a cluster of another 3-4. Occasionally, the ocean floor would provide us with a small stretch of flat, if not still rutted, rock to run on.  What was extremely interesting was how when I would hit these small portions, I would immediately either gain on runners or put runners behind me in just 10 or 20 yards of running. It completely reminded me of running the Gorge Waterfalls race where a small mile or so section of road allowed me to separate myself from the more accomplished trail runners who did nothing if not turn their nose at this concrete abomination. I used these to the best of my advantage as running in the sand was not my bag, baby.

We passed the starting point and even in the minutes it took to get out here, the tide had receded
exponentially. I had made note of one particular rock jutting out of the water which was not fully exposed when we started. Now, not even two miles into the race, it was bare and all the ocean floor around it was open as well.  Even though I was breathing hard I was still marveling at what was going on around my feet.

Up ahead I could see we ran straight for quite some time and it was interesting to see which route some of the runners would take. Some branched off on their own and others would fall right behind.  Others would strike out on a different tact and none would follow.  As the path along the beach was extremely wide, runners were given the choice of where to run down the beach. Some chose the sand and some chose to run elsewhere.  What was amazing was how different the sea floor was in so many places. From sand to flat rocks to small boulder fields to more, it was completely different from one mile to the next.  I would have never expected such a vast difference.

There was one female in front of me wearing the toe-shoes which were all the craze a few years back and have rightfully faded.  However, on this particular day, they very well may have been useful.  I was supplementing an older pair of Karhu shoes which were ready for the dustbin with my ICESPIKE. Unfortunately, as solid as the spikes were, they were no match for this terrain.

Around this point I begin running with one runner who would become my shadow for the remainder of the race. Meanwhile, I looked ahead to see where the runners were going and tried to triangulate the best course. As I did so, the chap near me would either run behind me or beside me. Whether he was using me as a water-tester, or I was picking the best way to run, this is where he stayed.  Regardless, it was quite clear he was a superior runner in the mulch; I could best him when it was solid ground. It was going to be an interesting rest of the day for sure.

To Old Wife

We passed a few volunteers handing out full bottles of water to the runners and they told us we were at the halfway mark.  I looked at my watch and thought if true, and I could maintain my pace, I was going to crush expectations for my effort and everyone in front of me was going to throw down some unexpected times as well.  I drank heartily from the bottle and threw it back over my shoulder to the volunteers.  I didn’t need any more and wanted to have my hands free for balance. On more than a few occasions I had an ankle give away slightly or clip the edge of something. Always able to stabilize myself, I now know for certain why the race organizers did not allow people to run the race barefoot.  It simply would have been devastating to someone’s feet.

Having put one last runner in my rear view mirror, there was a long expanse between me and the next small grouping of runners. I saw what appeared to be some flat surfaces ahead and hoped to make up some ground.  Unfortunately, while I was catching glimpses of the sheer cliff walls to my right and marveling at the water mark where the water would eventually go later on high above my head, I wasn’t gaining on the
runners in front of me.  This entire section was made of those wave-like undulations which just absolutely exhausted my legs. You would more or less take a step at the top of the wave, take a step down, a step across and then the fourth or fifth step would have you on top of the next wave. Each step had you sinking a few inches into wet sand which would then cling to your treads and make your feet feel like a ton. This may only be a 10k but the legs were going to feel like they had run a hard half-marathon by the end of the day.

Up ahead I could see tiny figures with many bright colored shirts. At first I thought they were drop bags of the 5k runners. Then I remembered the 5k runners did a simple out and back starting from the finish.  These were not bags but rather actual human beings. The scale of the ocean floor to the surrounding rocks allowed no perspective. Akin to running on the Salt Flats this past April, with nothing around to understand what you are looking at, reality becomes distorted.

Meanwhile, my shadow would not be shook.  I also noticed however he did not necessarily want to take the lead. Realizing he was along for the ride, I decided to save a little bit of energy on these sand dunes and hopefully save it for something with more footing solid later. Old Wife, a section where the rock juts out abruptly from the shoreline ad forms a silhouette of its name (try as I might, I couldn’t even use my imagination to see how it worked) this was an interesting section. The tides in the bay do not come in uniformly in one direction. Because of the islands that gave the neighboring town of Five Islands its name, the water flows in to the bay here in an odd manner. Rather than just in one steady flow up the shore, it sneaks in around the islands and will fill in areas closer to shore while leaving dry places further out to sea.  If one does not know how this whole tide system works they can easily get cut off from the shore and stranded.  For the slowest of the 5k runners, some will have to be rerouted because of this tide and instead of running around Witch’s Hat, go up and over a rocky lower-slung section of the rock. There was no danger of that happening for me and my runners here here and as I got closer I could see that next to the conga line of runners was a section of strewn rocks and pebbles. Instead of falling in line and added to the much, I ran next to them in the rocks. It might make for ankle-braking twist and turns but it was more solid than the sand.

As we picked our way through the 5k runners, I and my shadow took separate routes.  Before I knew it, as we crested the Wife and made a sharp right hand turn, he has passed me and put a good ten yards or so between us. With a mile or so to go it looks like he was making his move. However, he did not know about the mud.

To The Finish:

This last section is by far the hardest.  Shoe-sucking mud, well past the ankle and in some case half way up the shin, threatened to leave some in socking feet. Forget threatened; it did for more than that to a few. However, while I did not run well in the uneven footing, I seemed to be able to figure out a system to get through this mess.  Leaning forward slightly, while running mainly on my toes, seemed to allow me to not sink in as much while still maintaining some semblance of speed. This very well might work for all or simply worked on this particular day but I suggest you get it a shot. Because of it, the gap between me and my competitor narrowed and after a half mile of that slop, I was next to him.  He seemed surprised to see me and I felt I might have finally broken his spirit. The footing became more stable and we just had one more obstacle to overcome.

As we ran down an embankment, we could see a knee-high river of water 20 feet wide and growing.  I gave all I had down this hill and hit the water knees churning. Popping out on the other side and the shoes and legs were as clean as the second we started. However, crawling up the other side in loose wet sand with rocks here and there soon made them dirty again. It also seemed to be the end of my shadow.

Making one final left-hand turn we saw the arch line of the finish ahead.  I had lost track of what number I was in the race as I had spent four miles battling my foe. Give the crunchiness of the footing, I didn’t need to turn to see where he was to see if he would mount one last charge. I had enough distance between us to hold him off. I did just that and finished in a time of 49:11. This is an 8 minute personal worst in the 10k if that gives you any idea how challenging this course can be. On top of that, I finished 11th place overall. I think 11th place is second to 4th place as the crappiest of places (especially when I see now I closed the gap and finished just 16 seconds out of the top 10.)  But on this day, I was happy to finish at all.

I shook the hand off the shadow behind me, found out his name (Abdel) and said thank you for pushing me.  He thanked me for pulling him along and we shared some “Good lord that was tough” looks at the course over or shoulders. I could tell I had some sort of abrasion on my foot and upon removal of my shoe saw I had taken odd a quarter-sized section of skin and flesh from my heel. The three ounces of soot, sand and mud in the shoe had frictioned off a little bit of Dane.

Some people leave their heart in San Francisco.  I left my heel in Nova Scotia.

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