Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Goodwater 16 Mile Trail Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 12; 2nd Edition 
29.1 miles runs in 2017 races
Race: Goodwater 16 Mile Trail
Place: Georgetown, TX
Miles from home: 40
Weather: 60s; mostly cloudy;very humid

It is good to run a trail race every once in a while to remind yourself why you don't really enjoy racing on trails.

Now calm down, dirt-lovin' trail runners. We don't want the supposed kumbaya, we-love-all facade to be displaced because I dare besmirch the single track. As I have said for years, it is no great feat to appreciate running next to a babbling brook or a mountain visage as opposed to a parking lot strewn with broken glass and Twinkies wrappers. But racing on it is not necessarily my cup of tea. Well, since I have never had tea (or coffee) in my life that's a bad analogy. It isn't my cut of steak. (I like that one better. Let's start using it.)

So, why don't I enjoy racing on trail much? Mostly because I like to run as fast as I possibly can. On trails, that is more or less impossible. And yes, while you can trip and fall anywhere (broke my hand running on clear sidewalk a year ago) the odds you end up busting a face on trail are greater. I long ago lost, or have actually never had, any desire to seem to be macho by shrugging off wounds as if they are no big thing. I like my body to be in the non-broken state. I'm crazy like that.

All of that aside, I wished to take advantage of a weekend I was home, to run in a nearby park near my new town, and do so at a relatively low-cost event. The people putting on the race appeared to know what they were doing and had some good reviews, so I figured I would give it a go. The race was fairly organized, fairly well-marked, and there was a general good vibe to the weekend's activities. There were a variety of races going on (including a double marathon and a double marathon "relay" where two people ran the marathon in opposite directions, combining their times: something I had never heard of but thought was pretty neat) but by and large it appeared we would be running virtually alone. Again, not my cut of steak on race days but there you have it.

Race Morning:

I asked a few people what I could expect on the trail and got differing answers. I also realized that what one person considers "technical" is another person's driveway. Remember, the aforementioned downplaying by seasoned trail people.  As if warning about slick rocks, cacti, and whatnot might be against some code of "Learnin' on the Run!"

[side note: I have been writing this website for ten years now and one of the first articles I wrote was about the Old Dominion 100 mile race and how finding information online about its course was next to impossible.  A decade later and many race websites still provide a plethora of information but often hide the basics. Where is the race, when is the race, and what is the course like. This continues to baffle me to this day. ]

While some of the other distances were already underway, it appeared the only people we would have to contend with where those running the 16-mile and 8-mile races. As we would start together, there was no way of knowing who was doing what until the 4 mile turn around for the 8ers. I thought I may be able to win the race but based that on nothing more than intuition. The only way to find out would be to run.

First Four Miles:

From the start of the race, which began in the grass median of the parking lot and immediately dove into the woods on a crushed gravel trail before crossing two roads, I could see it would be very hard to pass anyone at all.  It was a single track course and it was clear from the start there would be next to no uniformity in the footing we ran upon.

Two chaps jolted out to the front and I just had a feeling they were running the 8-mile version.  Four other gentlemen were in front of me as we quickly separated ourselves from the rest of the  pack. For the next 2.5 miles I stayed in the back pocket of the last runner, trying to figure out who was running what, who was going to separate, and when might be a good time to pick things up. The footing was definitely on the difficult side and ever-changing. Roots and grass here, rocks and slickness there. I spent very little time looking ahead of me and most of it looking at the ground so I didn't become part of it. So much for enjoying the scenery. When I could take a second to look, it was a nice view.

The first runner in the four had separated himself and the next runner followed a bit behind.  However, I was tucked behind the next two and couldn't make a move.  Finally, I "onyourleft"ed and in a small opening bounded forward past these two in front of me. I soon was on the next runners' heels with the first runner vanished into the twists and turns ahead.

In the next mile, I kept attempting to figure out if this runner was in my race and if so, how I could get around him. We passed a section where the forest opened and we ran across some slate surface.  To our right was the lake below and it was a rather precipitous drop with nothing really stopping someone if they fell. It wasn't exactly "dangerous" but it wasn't exactly "safe" either. I can't imagine what someone running in darker conditions would do here.

At one mild fork in the trail, the runner in front of me went right. I saw a pink pin flag to our left signifying the correct way and yelled he was going the wrong way. He only lost about ten feet but it was enough for me to get around him. Finally, an open trail.

Not long after that the first runner overall running the 8-mile race came flying back at me.  A minute or so later the second runner did as well. As expected, the two I surmised were running the shorter version of the race were doing just that. That meant I was, at worst, in 2nd place overall in my own race. When I saw no one else coming back to me I figured the last runner was running the 16-miler. I approached the aid station at the 4th mile and saw him darting through the trees in the distance. Good. I will go catch him. 

I then promptly went the wrong direction.

To The Half Way Point

Running up the trail I popped out into a parking lot. I immediately knew I was running the wrong way. Damn it. I ran back and got myself back on trail. Or at least thought I did. I picked up the pace trying to ascertain if I was on the right trail but couldn't see the first place runner. I exploded out of the trail into a long opening and I saw no one up ahead. I assumed I would be able to see the lead runner here if I was on the right track. Bollocks. Nothing to do but keep pressing forward.

I ran up this small hill and into the forest again, pressing the pace even more. Half of a mile later, I finally saw the leader up ahead. I let out a huge sigh of relief knowing I was on the right path. He would disappear out of view every once in a while over the next few miles but each time he came back into my sight I saw I was closer. He had put a sizeable lead on me at one point and I don't know if it was because of my wrong turn or he was just running hard. Either way I was closing the gap now.

With about half of a mile to go to the turn-around, I saw three people sitting in a field. I thought this might be the turn around itself but instead they were the only spectators. Well, they weren't spectating but rather walking a dog. But one made eye contact with me and that sorta counts, like my high school dating life.

We hit a paved section and I recall the RD telling us this was the last bit before the turn around.  I dialed up the pace again and when the lead runner stopped at the aid station, I passed him. I ran another ten feet around the turnaround pole and decided to grab a cup of Coke at the aid station.  I was wearing my Camelbak Circuit and felt it would be enough to get me back but given the humidity and how much I was sweating figured grabbing fluid where it was offered was wise. I saw a can of Coke but the three cans they had out where all unopened. There didn't seem to be any cups at the ready with Coke already in them. Waiting for someone to pour is fine and dandy when you aren't trying to race a guy who is six inches from you but that wasn't working for me. So I grabbed a can of Coke, opened it up, poured a bit down my throat (never letting the can touch my lips), thanked the volunteers, placed it on the table, and took off.

To Mile 12:

Downhill. On Pavement. Now that is how I like to trail run! With the runner (Allen) behind me by a few steps, I knew it was now time for me to be the mouse and him to be the cat.  But I felt good in my ability to turn it on in this second half. I knew the route now, I knew what was in store and it was time to run to victory.

*slip* *Splat* *LOUD EXPLETIVE*

Down I went. After leaving the paved portion and hitting the trail again, I was soon not in my element. Right when I was feeling good, I took my eyes off the trail. I had just had a few people pass me heading out to the turnaround so as I went down and then back up a small hill on a curve, I looked ahead to make sure I wasn't going to run into anyone. That lapse had my feet go out from underneath me and sent me, ribs and forearm first, onto a rock. Sumbitch that hurt. I checked to make sure that I didn't break anything and still wasn't sure when I started running again. But it appeared I would just be leaving behind flesh, skin and blood.  Not the worst thing in the world, thankfully. The runner behind me (Allen) had caught me and graciously stopped to see if I was OK. I thanked him and waved him on. Since I was fine and sure as hell was going to try to beat him, I wanted him to keep going.

Now, more cautious, I began to try and make up the distance.  Surprisingly, I was still within striking distance of Allen, albeit further away than I would like. However, after picking my way back, I was his shadow once again. As long as I didn't fall, I would be...

*slip* *Splat* *LOUD EXPLETIVE*

This one hurt more than the first but didn't come with a bone crushing hit. Instead it was just a hand slice and some contusions on the other side of the body. Allen turned around to see if I was OK and once again, I point out this was a very classy move.  Yeah, I am pretty sure anyone who has a soul would do the same thing but anyway.  I thanked him again and said I think I was going to be fine.

A few hundred yards later we passed a stream crossing and I splashed water on my wounds to make sure nothing looked specifically horrible.  Fortunately it appeared this wouldn't require a doctor's visit. So once again I dusted myself off and began to make the trek back to catching Allen. For those of you scoring at home, this is the third time I have been in this position.  (And it is the third time even if you are alone. - Thank you, Keith Olbermann, SportsCenter Days.)

This time the gap to close was not as large as last time. As we entered the clearing from before when I had thought I might be on the wrong trail, I passed Allen. I told him it was awfully cool of him to wait and said "There's no room for ego if someone is hurt." We chatted a little bit here and there as we entered a relatively rocky and slick section. Now it was Allen's turn to be right on my heels.

I felt bad as we approached the aid station with 4 miles to go as I felt I might be holding him back a touch. I was cautiously traversing the rocks as I think one more fall would have done me in.  But he didn't seem in any hurry to try to pass me so we stayed this way until the water tubs on the table at mile 12.

Heading Home:

Again, even though I had the Camelbak on (and had been drinking from it) I decided to grab a drink here nonetheless. In fact, using the conical cups next to the jug, I took three drinks. Allen drank as well and then as I took off he was right behind me. We stayed this way for about two miles as the sun was beginning to penetrate the overcast skies.

My cautiousness continued but I didn't hear Allen as much. I previously realized my watch had stopped on my second fall so I had no idea really how much time I had left until I was finished.  With no real way to gauge distance until the finish, I was hoping to use my watch to help me through a rough patch or two. Unfortunately, that was not to be. Just focus on the trail, Dane.

As I trudged on I came to a rather steep hill that forced me to walk. I stepped to the side a bit to let Allen pass if he needed to. He wasn't there. Hmm. I started hiking up the hill and then behind me heard footsteps. It appeared I had started to put a gap between us. This race was mine to lose.

I continued to push the envelope with one last splurge of energy. I passed over the first road near the start and completely forgot there was a second.  My energy was waning as I figured I had to be close. Every bit of the trail looked like every other bit of the trail.  Finally with 100 yards to go I could see some movement through the forest that looked like finish line flags. Noise from a speaker filtered through the trees. Colored banners appeared and the clearing opened. Twenty yards later I was finished.

Crossing in 2:19:32, I had won.

Since it was a first year race, I also got the course record. Off the top of my head, that would be five course records I still possess. One can never be taken from me (Iron Horse 50 miler had parts of its course paved, making it much easier), one race seems to be dead (Dam 15 Miler), one is nearly impossible to find info about (Flat Ass 50k), this one, and then probably my greatest running feat ever the 84 miles on the Presque 12 Hour Endurance Classic. There may be more but those I know of (I can think of at least three others I have lost over time too.  Darn it.)

Allen finished a little over a minute behind me and I made sure to thank him for being such a
stand-up guy. I was greeted at the finish by my best friend Shannon who was coming back from a nasty ankle break this past Fall. This was her first trail race back and she picked a doozy. She wisely stuck to the 8 mile race just to be safe but it was no walk in the park, even if it was a run in the park.

The race atmosphere was very relaxed but nice.There was some food and drink for runners to nosh on and occasionally a runner would come from either direction finishing one of the many races. I wanted to stay longer but after receiving my award I knew I need to head home to tend to my wounds.  Not a bad way to start a weekend as I continue to get very lucky as a Master's runner. I have won or placed in a good percentage of the races I have run since turning 40, which, as I have always said, is just a matter of having people who are faster than you not showing up.

But life is about showing up. So while I know that on any given day I am not the fastest runner out there, I can only get to the finish by getting to the start.

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