Sunday, April 19, 2015

Race Recap: The Leatherwood 10-miler

Last year I tried to run the Leatherwood 50-miler but was stymied by terrible conditions. Due to the crazy amounts of mud and rain I decided to drop out after just 50k. But I loved the venue, especially the opportunity to stay in a beautiful cabin with spectacular views of the Appalachians.

So it didn't take long for my running buddies Sam and Tristan to convince me to head back to Leatherwood, this time to run the 10-mile event. Surely that wouldn't be too difficult, right?

That was before I had injured myself badly in another race known for tough trails, the Uwharrie 8-miler. Now, just two months later, I was getting ready to run another tough trail race, still only partially recovered from my injury. At least our cabin had a good view:

The best thing about this view: It's not raining! It had been raining in Davidson all week long, and I had been checking the weather in Ferguson where the race would be held, and the weather was similar. On Thursday night before the Saturday race I had gotten absolutely drenched on a trail run at home. But fortunately the rain tapered off on Friday and there was no rain to speak of for a solid 24 hours before the race.

On Saturday morning Tristan, Hope, Sam's wife Stephanie, and I were ready for the 10-miler. Sam and Phyllis had already started the 50k. Here we are heading out the door of our cabin:

From left: Me, Tristan, Stephanie, and Hope
We drove down to the starting area, and before we knew it we were off. The 10-mile race started with a mile of a gradual climb up a paved road. I settled in behind Tristan, who had 4 runners ahead of him. My plan was to go hard on the uphills and easy on the downhills, since I needed to do some hill training anyways and there was less chance of a bad fall on the climbs.

After about a mile we turned onto the trail and immediately headed straight up a steep ascent. Soon Tristan and I were both walking. But after a while I decided I wanted to alternate walk-running, so I passed Tristan. Then I passed the guy ahead of Tristan. Suddenly I was in fourth place, third male in a race that I had been thinking of as a hard workout, not really a race.

I made it up to the top of the first major climb well ahead of Tristan and the guy ahead of him, who was wearing a Miller Beer shirt. As soon as we started the descent, I could hear Miller Man's footsteps behind me. We got to another climb before he caught me, and I pulled away again. The next runner ahead of me was a woman, who despite the 15 percent grades and 700-foot climb, never once stopped to walk. With my walk-run strategy I was gaining ground, but as soon as the trail leveled off, she pulled away. Soon after that, Miller Man passed me as well. My strategy was to not push too hard during the flats and downhills, mainly to avoid another bad fall, but also because I felt like I wasn't fit enough aerobically to run the whole race hard. The longest run I had done since my previous injury was only 12 miles, on much mellower terrain than I'd be seeing today.

When we arrived at the first aid station, 3 miles in, Miller Man was still in sight. But I wasn't carrying anything and definitely needed some water, so I stopped long enough to gulp down two cups. Then we headed down an extended hill on a gravel road. I decided that since this wasn't a trail I could afford to open it up a little here, so I did, keeping Miller Man in sight until we started the next climb. Miller Man was definitely walk-running the hills, so I made up a lot of ground as we climbed about a 400-foot ascent in Mile 4. But when we reached the top, he was still ahead of me, and pulled away quickly on the downhill. It looked like I was a solid 5th place for now, but I knew the second half of the race was mostly downhill, so I figured Tristan at least would catch up to me there.

In Mile 6 we hit another doozy of a climb. It just kept going up and up, and I had to take longer and longer walk-breaks. This graph shows you both the elevation profile and my cadence over the course of the race:

Yep, that's hilly!
The spots where the cadence drops below 150 are my walk-breaks. I think the four dots above 200 are just anomalies. As you can see, there's a big climb in Mile 6, and at the top it just keeps climbing some more. Finally I started descending again, and once again, this was a fairly smooth gravel road, so I allowed myself to run fairly hard in this section. Every once in a while I looked over my shoulder to see if Tristan was there, but I never saw him. Finally at Mile 8 I arrived at the aid station again.

The morning had warmed up and I was drenched with sweat, so I stopped and drank four cups of water and ate a cookie. Then I headed down the only really technical section of the course. I kept repeating the mantra, "Take it easy; you're not racing," while secretly hoping to myself that I'd somehow catch up to Miller Man and snag third-place male. The trail was muddy, but nothing like what it had been last year, and I was wearing much grippier shoes. I really didn't even have anything approaching a close call, let alone a fall. Finally I emerged on to the pavement and just started running as fast as I could. There was no one ahead of me and no one behind that I could see. I had fourth place locked up. I ran the last mile in a 7:14 pace and cruised across the finish line, where Sam was as surprised to see me as I was to see him.

He knew I was running the race conservatively, so didn't think I'd finish as quickly as I did — my overall time was 1:45:37 unofficially, 4th male and 5th overall. I knew he had a long way to go in the 50k so I was wondering why he was there. He had decided to drop out, since he had another 50k next week and wasn't feeling well after battling a cold the week before.

Tristan came in about 10 minutes behind me, with Stephanie a couple minutes later, finishing 4th female to match my 4th male finish. Hope, who had been thinking she might have to hike the entire race due to a knee injury, ended up running much more than she thought, and had a good race.

Phyllis, on the other hand, absolutely killed the 50k, running a negative split and getting the first overall female trophy:

Well done!
After the race, I headed back up to the cabin for a shower and enjoyed the best part of the weekend: Hanging out with my friends on the balcony of our beautiful temporary home!

It doesn't get any better than this!
I was relieved to have survived the race, and boy did those post-race beverages taste great!

The Garmin details of my race are below:

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