Sunday, January 18, 2015

Charlotte Running Company Trail Race

US National Whitewater Center
Charlotte, NC 

I can count on one hand the number of times that I've done any trail running.  A few weeks ago several friends were mentioning their plans to sign up for the 9 mile race.  A quick check of my calendar revealed a rare free Saturday, and so without hesitation, I decided I'd join them in the trail running fun.  Online registration revealed 4, 9, and 13 mile options, and filled with New Year's resolutions and ambition, I opted for the 13 miler.

Race morning brought temperatures in the upper 20s with bright sunshine and not a cloud in the sky.  I dressed in my favorite Sugoi compression tights, layered shirts, gloves, and a hat, knowing that I'd rather be a little warm than frozen.  The 9 and 13 mile runners started together and made a three-quarter mile loop prior to entering the trail head.  We were packed tightly for the first mile on the trail which led to lots of stop and go as we navigated the technical trails.  Between miles two and three I settled into a better rhythm with others who were running a similar pace.  The trails themselves were still wet from the rains earlier in the week and with low temperatures resulted in slick frozen sections, particularly when covered with leaves.  Just past mile three there was a steep descent that I slowed to navigate.  Unfortunately the guy behind me wasn't so cautious and slipped, falling directly into me, and next thing I knew I was on the ground with knees and hands covered in mud.  Fortunately I wasn't injured and hopped right back up.  At that point, all I really wanted was to enjoy the run, exercise some caution, and finish uninjured.

Miles 3-7 were the most technical and featured numerous sharp turns, rocks and tree roots, and ascents/descents.  I never realized how mentally exhausting trail running can be, as I was afraid to ever take my eyes off the ground and potential obstacles ahead.  My Garmin dropped signal intermittently and so my mile splits were inaccurate from the start, but I took a Gu at the one hour mark.  The 13 milers broke away from the 9 milers for a mile before rejoining them just prior to the turn off for the 9 mile finish.  My quads were feeling the impact of the uneven terrain, but overall I was feeling good and was happy I had chosen the 13 mile distance.  Fortunately, the last four miles of the race were the easiest, as it was on the lake loop which is wider and much less technical (with the exception of areas of deep mud).

Nearly two hours after I entered the woods, I began to hear the music and announcers at the parking area and knew the finish was within reach.  The toughest hill of the day was a steep incline over the last 100 meters prior to the finish, and with the last bit of quad strength I could muster, I crossed the finish line of my first trail race.  I covered 13 slick and muddy miles with 1580 feet of elevation change in 2:02:46, a pace of 9:46/mile.

2 / 10   F 30-34
9 / 94   Females
69 / 258 Overall
My quads cramped almost immediately after I finished, but fortunately the therapists from Carolina Sports Clinic were there to provide some stretching and massage.  Although I was a bit nervous about the injury potential associated with a trail run, I ended up truly enjoying myself and would definitely do this race again in future years.  My only complaint was the limited selection of post-race food (bananas, oranges, and stale bagels), so I hung around briefly for the awards and to chat with friends and then headed towards home for lunch and a warm shower.

Saturday afternoon turned out to be a rare picture perfect winter day with a high temperature nearing 60 degrees and bright sunshine.  After what has seemingly been a record stretch of cold, grey skies, and rain, I had started to think I'd never see the sunshine or warmth until April.  I slathered on some sun screen, gathered my lunch and magazines, and didn't budge from the lounge chair for three hours.

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