Saturday, January 29, 2011

I am an Idiot

It felt very strange last night going to bed at 9:00—so strange that I don't actually remember falling asleep, only waking up from a dream that I missed my 3:55 a.m. ride to the Fellowship of the Idiots run in Albemarle, North Carolina. What started as an informal training run as area runners prepared for the two big marathons in the region (Charlotte and Myrtle Beach) has grown to a substantial event, with 70 or 80 runners showing up for the 5:30 a.m. run.

The event is non-competitive, and even with such a large group, everyone seemed to enjoy the spirit of the event as a fun training run. As it turned out, I didn't miss my ride, and joined Chad, Todd, Jeremy, Terry, Matt, and Tim in a caravan to Albemarle, about 60 miles away. The run itself is fairly intense, billed as a 19.7-mile round trip from downtown Albemarle to the top of nearby Morrow Mountain. But I had convinced myself that it wasn't that hilly; I was going into the event thinking it would be about 16 flat miles, with a big hill in the middle, roughly a 300-vertical foot climb. As it turned out, my Garmin recorded a cumulative elevation gain of 1,210 feet—more than Big Sur—and the climb up Morrow was more like 500 vertical feet, placing it in the same league as the notorious Hurricane Point climb at Big Sur. Here's the profile of the entire run:

We arrived in Albemarle early enough to drive up to the gate at Morrow Mountain State Park, about mile 8 on the plot above, so we didn't get to see the really big hill. I was surprised to see the rolling hills throughout; there really were hardly any flat sections. When we arrived back at the start, we quickly signed in, posed for a picture, and then took off, accompanied by a police escort.

I was running with Todd and Jeremy, who I knew would be faster than me, but I wanted to see if I could convince them to start off slowly. My plan was to run roughly 9-minute miles until I reached the top of the mountain, then 8-minute miles on the return trip. That was before I realized just how hilly this run was. After an 8:36 Mile 1 and 8:20 Mile 2, I realized I'd need to slow down, so I let them go. Miles 3-6 were uneventful: 8:42, 8:37, 8:49, 8:43. Still a little faster than planned. At mile 6, there was a water stop. I asked if there would be water at the top of the mountain, and got "there will be water at various points along the route." I had about 8 ounces in my water belt, but decided it would be a good idea to stop and drink a cup, just in case.

Then I started charging uphill. There was a woman in front of me who seemed to be keeping a decent pace, so I tried to stay with her. Mile 7, with 128 vertical feet, was 8:48. Mile 8, with 75 vertical feet, was also 8:48. Now I could start seeing the first hints of sunrise on the horizon. There was a beautiful crescent moon, and Venus was also visible nearby. An absolutely stunning morning. On Mile 9, with 160 vertical feet, I passed the woman and put in an 8:40. Mile 10 got even steeper: 211 vertical feet to the top, about 9.6 miles. On the ascent I passed one guy and pulled even with another. As it turned out, there was a water station, and I drank half a bottle and used the rest to refill my water belt. Then I made a visit to one of the tiniest bathroom stalls I've ever encountered, and headed back down the hill.

Then I ran into Chad, who took my picture:

On the way back down, I passed Matt and Tim headed up the hill. They're much faster than me so they must have been taking it easy on this run. I also saw Terry on his way up. I was trying to pick up the pace on the downhill section but only passed two or three runners. Despite the very large field of runners, there was a lot of separation, and I was running by myself most of the time. Mile 10, half uphill and half downhill, was 9:08. Downhill miles 11 and 12 were 8:02 and 8:04. Mile 13, still mostly downhill, was 8:13.

It was becoming clear to me that once the downhill sections ended, there was no way I was going to be able to maintain an 8-minute pace. Sure enough, Mile 14, with a 133-foot vertical gain, was 8:40. Mile 15, 90 vertical feet, was 8:49. Now I was really starting to feel the pain in my legs, which were also extremely tight. Mile 16 was relatively flat, but I still only managed an 8:56. I took a rest at a water stop, drinking the water from my belt because I knew I could make it to the finish without additional water (I had been eating gels every 4 miles throughout the run). Miles 17–19 were not quite as hilly as the preceding miles, but I was spent, and my times got progressively worse: 9:30, 9:59, 10:05. I ran the final .26 miles at a 10:30 pace.

Overall, it was an 8:48 pace—not even as good as my somewhat disappointing 18-miler last week. But this course was much hillier than I expected. I actually went farther without fading than I did last week, and I was trying to be much more aggressive once I hit the big hills. I'll need to improve as I do more long runs, but it's still good to get these miles under my belt. This was the farthest I've ever run; it may have been unreasonable to think I could do half of this run at my planned marathon pace three months from now.

At the end of the race, I and the many other first-timers were awarded Fellowship of the Idiots T-shirts and certificates commemorating our accomplishment. One nice thing about this run is that the Y gives all the participants access to their showers, so I could get cleaned up and changed before we drove home. It turned out, this meant I missed the big group photo, but I got Nora to take my photo with the new shirt when I got home:

And here's the very serious certificate:

It reads:

Fellowship of the Idiots. This certifies that Dave Munger is a member in good standing and is granted all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. From the "Y" to the top of Morrow Mountain and BACK!


  1. LOL. You're batshit insane. But on the other hand, being an idiot means you can fool yourself into doing things that you probably shouldn't... and then be stubborn enough to succeed!

  2. You earned that shirt for sure, Dave. Great run.

  3. Yes, I am indeed an idiot. I can almost walk normally now, though, so maybe it will wear off by tomorrow.