Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Misty's Frosty Foot 30k Race Recap

Yep, I knew you all  hadn’t yet had your fill of the thrilling adventure that was the 2015 Tsali Frosty Foot 30k, so here to top off your craving is guest blogger Misty! And don’t forget, you can read my recap here.

This past Saturday I ran my first 30K trail race, the Tsali Frosty Foot. I've never considered myself a runner, or even much of an athlete, which probably surprises those who know me, as I do have a competitive spirit.  Not competitive in the sense that I have to win, but competitive in the sense that I usually don't back down from a challenge, I always give everything I have, and I am always looking to beat that voice in my head that keeps telling me I'm not very athletic. Don't get me wrong, I love to win, but I also know what's realistic, and for me winning isn't always about coming in first.  

So on Saturday I woke up at 4:45AM, met the girls giving me a ride at 6:15AM, and off to Robbinsville we went. The race started at 9am so we had plenty of time to get there, but we still ended up having over an hour wait which will do all sorts of things to your nerves. By the time the race started my feet were numb. The first 3 miles were painful as it felt like I was running on glass. Finally my toes thawed and it was smooth running for a while.

The views of Lake Fontana were amazing. I loved how the trail wound around the lake and the way the sun made the water glisten. Overall the trail was pleasant to run--not too many rocks or roots. There were places where you could run a super fast pace mixed with areas where even the most skilled runner would want to slow a little. The day started just above freezing and steadily warmed to the low 50s. Unusual for January but perfect for racing. We did encounter quite a bit of mud later in the day as frozen trail  puddles warmed to muddy obstacles that I chose to skillfully navigate around or over instead of through.

I started to hit a wall as we were heading to the second (and last) aid station. It was more of a mental wall as the group I was running with began collectively wondering aloud when we would come to the next station. It seemed as though the trail would go on forever and I got it in my head that I needed the next aid station soon! I was getting hot and wanted to shed my hat and gloves, and those annoyances were all I could focus on. Finally, we made it to the aid station where the kind volunteer stuffed my gloves in my vest for me. I adjusted my ponytail, ate orange slices, and grabbed a mandarin orange flavored GU to go.

With 4 miles left to go I was feeling a little better. But then, I hit this big ass hill, or what looked like a big ass hill, and I was ready to be done. Our group slowed to a walk, but Katie went around and kept on running. My hamstrings and glutes were killing me and the walk/run thing just wasn't working for me. The pain seemed to intensify each time I changed pace. I decided to “pull a Katie” and go around the group. I could hear the others say, "Keep going Misty." So I did. By the tme I got to the top of the first hill and began attacking the second, Katie had slowed down. But as I approached she said, "Keep running!" The thing about me is that when I decide I'm done and want something to end I tend to get a final wind that propels me to the finish. With 2ish miles left I was able to harness that energy and just kept on going.

Soon, I saw a guy, Adam, that I recognized from Summit CrossFit ahead of me, and he became my target. I would catch him or die trying. I finally caught up to Adam and went for the pass, but right then we spotted a downed runner. Fortunately Adam and a couple of other people stopped to help the woman out. With three of them standing around her, what was I gonna do? She was clearly breathing, and there were no open fractures, so I decided to keep going. I started to slow a bit with no runners in sight to target and overtake. I pulled out the GU I took at the previous aid station and sucked in a mouthful. YUCK! There was nothing in it that pouch that remotely tasted of mandarin orange! Still, I felt the caffeine hitting my system and picked up my speed.

Soon, I spotted another runner up ahead and thought, He's getting passed! I'm gonna pass you, I'm gonna pass you. I flew right by him. Around the next turn I saw a new man and a woman to target. It always makes me laugh when people don't wear ear buds and play their music aloud for all to hear. I'm not saying it bothers me necessarily but again, its kind of funny to hear what some people listen to. So I politely announced I was passing and bolted around the lady who was blasting, "Girl I'm gonna make you sweat. Sweat til you can't sweat no more..."

I could see Katie behind me winding her way along the path and yelled for her to keep going. I knew I must be getting close to the end, and I strained my ears to try to hear people or music from the DJ at the finish line. Nothing. Where are we? Then I meet another girl who was walking around like she was lost. She tried to get me to stop by asking what mile we were at and how much further we had to go. I kept running slowly and said, “I don't know, but it can't be much further.” She started running after me to try to keep up and asked, "But how much do you think?" I tried to keep the annoyance out of my voice as I said, “I don't have a GPS watch.” To which she replied with an astonished tone, "You don't?" Why the hell is that so surprising? Obviously she didn't either. I ignored that question, which isn't what I really wanted to do (if you know what I mean) and began running a little faster.  

As we round another corner on the trail we saw a runner who had already finished the race standing on the sideline shouting to us, “The finish is just around the this next bend. You’re almost done!”  “Really?” I said. “Thank you so much!” It was all I needed to hear. I took off. The woman was right! I got nervous running through the finish; I'm always afraid I will trip on the mats. But I ran it in with a smile on my face before stopping to let the kind volunteer remove the timing chip from my shoe. Katie emerged from the woods shortly after followed by Latisha and Carrie.  

I finished the race, 18.6 miles of trail, in 4:11:33. I thought my time was probably decent, but the next day I saw the final, official result online. Overall I came in 116th out of 147.  I finished 21st of 31 in my age group. When I saw this I felt a little disappointed because I thought I had done better. Then I started thinking and realized, seven months ago the longest distance I had run was 5 miles. But then my dear friend Katie kept asking me to run with her to help her get through her first 50k. She's pushed me ever since and I am so proud of the progress I've made. I'm enjoying running. It gives me another outlet besides CrossFit for ridding my body of stress. It's an opportunity to enjoy the company of some really fun women and to appreciate the beauty of nature surrounding me. I've lived here in WNC all my life and until recently hadn’t really taken the time to experience the beautiful mountains I call home. So could I have run faster? Could I have gotten a better finish? Absolutely! But are those goals important to me?  No. I want to soak up every minute I'm out there. I want to take it all in. I want to pause to appreciate the scenery. I want to take a picture. I'm never going to win first place and that's okay. I've already won so much more!  

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Katie's Frosty Foot 30k Race Recap

I wanted to start off quickly by saying that, I’m sure you’ve noticed most if not all of my race reviews are positive and complimentary. This isn’t because I’m afraid to say something negative about a race, but because my friends and I choose our races very carefully. So, as you read the following positive review just remember that I’m doing you a favor by weeding out all of the crappy races and only sharing the best of the best with you!

This race review is going to be extra special because, thanks to If These Shoes Could Talk, you will all have a VIDEO to compliment all of the exciting words I’ll be throwing down. Watch, like, and share the video with all of your friends:

As the footage shows, the weather gods smiled down on us on race day. There was a little bit of of frost in the beginning, but overall we were treated to a sunny, clear, fairly warm day in the mid-to-high 40s.

Even though Frosty Foot offers a 50k option, my friends and I ran the 30k course which is a very mild, rolling single track. We ran through sections bedded in pine needles and surrounded by Southern Ground Pine. We trekked our way up rocky dirt paths edged in short shrubby bushes and dry grasses. We crossed numerous small mountain creeks cutting their way down steep slopes. And of course, there was a vast section of the race where we wove our way along the “fingers” of the glistening Lake Fontana.

Logistically, the race was extremely well organized. Foot Rx, one of the many awesome running stores in the Asheville Area, puts on the annual Frosty Foot race, and with years of experience under their belts they leave no room for error. Everything from registration, to packet pickup, to chip timing, to race day vendors, to parking and potties was well thought out. HOWEVER, though the race organizers were on point, there were two minor issues that me and some of my fellow runners experienced. First, this race is known for giving out useful, practical finisher gifts rather than medals. Case in point: this lovely longsleeve tech tee from a past year:

Unfortunately, even though this year’s swag - a running cap complete with a hole for your ponytail - was made by the very respected Pearl Izumi, the hat looked like a swimming cap on most of us. I’m not exactly vain, but i’m not not vain either. Kudos to the race directors for finding a cost effective alternative so they could keep race costs down (my guess as to why there was a switch to the cap), but boo to you Pearl Izumi for not testing this hat on multiple heads. I look ridiculous!

Then, there was the aid station issue. State parks are awesome for races because they provide acres and acres of undisturbed wilderness that can’t be replicated anywhere else. But they also come with many strict rules as to who can be where and passing out what within the park boundaries. I clearly remember multiple emails from the race directors prior to the race stating VERY EXPLICITLY where the aid stations would be and advising runners to bring extra water and fuel because of the prolonged distance between pit stops. And yet, even though all of us read that email none of us had truly absorbed the information. The result? We all got pretty whiny in the gazillioin (6.5) miles between aid station one and two. So if you’re running the race next year, PLAN for the aid stations being few and far between,and treat them like gold veins when you come upon them.

In fact, one of my favorite quotes of the day came from a fellow Black Mountain Running Posse member who ran the 50k. He ran out of water at one point and decided to take a risk and drink from one of the many creeks along the course. Loosely quoting he said, “I knew that it took giardia a couple of days to take hold, so I figured I could at least finish the race.” Runners, right?!

But enough with the “issues.” I want to finish out this post with some of the great things that made this race extra special and memorable for me. First, I’ve noticed that anytime a local, famous running store (like Foot Rx) puts on a big event like this, the best of the best runners turn out to race. Even though this course wasn’t too hilly or too complicated, it was still rooty and rocky and had some appreciable technicality. Still, there were dozens of people (in a field of less than 300) who averaged sub 9 minute miles for the duration of the 30k and 50k courses. That’s hella fast! Running is one of the few sports where you actually get to run (behind) and later mingle with these elites, so hanging out with them all in one place was super cool!

Next, even though I didn’t get a picture of it, I was very moved by one gentleman who ran the entire 30k race with his dog! That pup looked so happy and proud as he and his owner gracefully glided over the finish line. I really hope that will be me and my future dog one day!

And last, but certainly not least was this amazing boy that I met: Java the donkey.

Most races have human sweeps, but the 2015 Frosty Foot 30k got this handsome fella to make sure all of us racers got safely across the finish line, and that all of the directional signs got picked up. I took every opportunity I could to go over and pet Java, talk to his owner, and gawk in amazement over how cool he is. Java’s owner says that Java loves to run, and that they are used to competing in those kinds of races where you run with your donkey. I swear, if I could create a race schedule for myself completely around this handsome devil, I would! I admit it, I’m a Java groupie.

So there you have it! The good, the bad, and the beautiful of the 2015 Frosty Foot 30k from my humble perspective. I’d love to hear what everyone else who ran thought of the race this year, especially if they have run it in previous years.

Want to know more about the race? Of course you do! So read Misty's race recap here for an even more tales of glory from the 2015 Frosty Foot 30k!

Happy Running!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Harbison 50k Recap (Part 1)

Welcome to my recap of the 2015 Harbison 50k race, held in the beautiful Harbison State Forest of Columbia South Carolina! This race recap is brought to you in two parts: Part 1 is a straightforward account of all the info you want to know if you’re thinking about signing up for this race; Part 2 is a high drama, provocative, riveting, and at times apolaustic (Google it!) account of my particular experience of the 2015 race. So read on, enjoy, Facebook like, G+, and comment.

For just $55 you, your buddies, and your arch running rivals can participate in this epic event. That’s just $1.78 per mile! (compare that to the $8.25/mile you would pay to run the NYC Marathon). Add to the very reasonable price excellent organization, detailed race day instructions and information from the race director, and hotel discounts from the clean, modern, and close-to-the-start line Hampton Inn, and you’ve got a real winner on your hands.

If you stay in the Hampton Inn, you can fill up on all the complimentary waffles, bananas, coffee, and oatmeal you can hold, then head down the road a mere mile or so to Harbison State Park. After the extremely simple check in process, I bet you want to take one last trip to the loo. Since the race is held at a State Park, there are bathrooms galore! Use a port-a-potty if you must, or luxuriate in your very own bathroom stall courtesy of the restrooms right behind the gazebo.

The Course
Firebreak Trail, Stewardship Trail, Midlands Mountain, Spiderwoman II, and Eagle Trail: learn it, love it. The race is a true two loop course over these five GORGEOUS trails. Don’t let the elevation profiles fool you! There may not be any completely horrendous climbs or descents, but there are plenty of ups and downs, even more roots and rocks, and endless amounts of mud to navigate. Still, my guess is that overall this is a fairly easy course that would be great for anyone’s first 50k, or for a 50k PR attempt. I do not base this on my own experience (this was only my second 50k and my first 50k was much flatter) but on the conversations I heard from other runners. In the words of the runner currently holding the course record -- and a person I happen to know, love, and run with -- “it’s 5 miles of relative flat but winding, 5 miles of relative flat and straight, and 5 miles of hell (Spiderwoman II).”

Aid Stations
The aid stations have got it going on! There is a start/midway/finish aid station, an aid station at mile 6.5/22, and an aid station at mile 10/26.3. Runners are able to bring a drop bag to be schlepped to whichever aid station they choose, and then dropped back off at the finish area after each racer completes their final stop at the chosen aid station. But who needs a drop bag when these stations come complete with everything you might ever want or need? I was greeted to a smorgasbord of fig newtons, pretzels, gummy bears, cookies, bacon, potato chips, boiled potatoes (salt optional), orange slices, bananas, water, tailwind, Coke, Mountain Dew, etc., at each stop. Not only that, the volunteers were knowledgeable, helpful, and energetic. They successfully refilled my water bladder in my vest without spilling a drop and without me having to take it off in less than 30 seconds. One dear woman even offered to jog along beside me to take pictures with my phone, but I declined as I knew I looked like a muddied, sweat-drowned rat. Seriously, only awesome people must make the grade to volunteer for this shindig.

Swag Bag
My husband (not a runner) was completely blown away by all that us runners received in exchange for so little money. Though I do not have my t-shirt yet (the printer made some kind of typo, so I’m getting it later. No biggie, but can’t post a pic of it yet) I got a dank medal, a t-shirt, and memories to last a lifetime! And, did I mention the medal is also a beer bottle opener? Yeah, the Harbison peeps are that cool.

Again, this race is run at a state park, so parking is plentiful and easy. We were informed ahead of time that there is a charge for parking ($5 for a day pass) but, shhhhhh, my husband was able to drop me off and come back a few hours later to park and watch me finish the race at no charge. Go figure!

Why you SHOULD do this race
All 50k races are challenging, and there will always be some point in a 50k where you will question your own sanity for signing up. That’s just a given. So, given this “given,” this has got to be one of the best 50k races the South has to offer. Plus--no offense Columbia, SC-- if you ever wanted to see this particular part of South Carolina this is probably the only month of the year where the town won’t melt your face off.

Why you should NOT do this race
You hate nature. You are allergic to mud. You are banned from entering the state of South Carolina.

Overall, I give this race a 10 out of 10 (and I got rained on!). Harbison 2016 is calling your name. You’re welcome in advance.