Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Kanawha Trace Darkness Falls 7 miler

I arrived at the race site for the Kanawha Trace Darkness Falls 7 mile race (with a 3 1/2 mile option) almost an hour ahead of the start, and the parking lot was already crowded. Though only 40 or so signed up, over a hundred ended up running one of the two distances.  I was super-excited to see so many folks—and definitely not all trail runners—out for a night race on trails.

I did get a little nervous, though, when I went to warm up on the opening and closing mile of the race. Probably because it was not quite dark, the glow sticks didn’t seem to be very bright. I had a little hard time following the trail. All those worries were taken care of, though, once we started: it was darker, and the lights showed up better, and with a crowd on the trails, I just settled into following others as we made our way up the service road to the single track about a half-mile into the run.

I had decided I didn’t want to run this one by myself, and figured I’d settle into a group from the start. The leaders went out a little hotter than I wanted, but I hung on for a little bit anyway. By the time we turned uphill for the first significant climb (of two) I was in a pretty good crowd. The climb changed that right dramatically. By the time we crested the hill at about 2+ miles, I was with three others, with folks trailing behind. The leaders were gone, for the most part.

We quickly dropped down toward the finish area where the 3.5 milers would stop. The 7-milers continued on around for a counter-clockwise (and slightly different ) loop that would reconnect to the starting trail with about 1 ½ miles to go. I was with one other runner (Philip) and we seemed to be hanging well together, pushing each other enough to make it feel like a race. Again, the leaders were long gone, and I figured all of those ahead of us were running the longer distance.

I asked Philip if he wanted me to lead; I felt bad he was doing all the route-finding. He said he liked running in front unless I wanted to speed up. Then he asked me if I often found myself in the position we were in: the leaders were mostly out of sight, and there was no one pushing us. I hadn’t thought much about it, but told him, yes, I had been racing for almost 30 years, and I ran a lot of those races in between groups.

After the finish area we turned back uphill. This one seemed steeper than the other, and I used the ultra-tool of walking with hands on quads pushing myself up the hill. Philip and I stayed together, though I thought at first he was going to pull away. We hit the top, and you could tell that the rest of the course was downhill and flat. We made our way around on a gas-line right-of-way, coming back to the single track by the creek and then the service road.

Philip and I were rolling along pretty well. I did take the lead on the gas line right of way, wanting to do my share. We slowed some on the single track, but once on the service road I speeded up again, and ended up pulling away from Philip. We went around the little pond again and finished—in the dead silence. There were people there, those who had finished the shorter distance, and the 11 who had finished ahead of me in the longer one. But no one said anything. Naturally, I cheered for the spectators; they had little response.

Afterwards I hung out and chatted with a guy I had run with before, and ate some soup (served up with a slotted spoon—I know, right?). I had worked harder than I thought I would, and felt good for it. I ran 1:06:19, good for 12th place out of 67.

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