Sunday, December 11, 2011

Couch Mountain

Duke Forest always brings me back in time. My first impression of campus coming from my hometown was always the long wooded stretch between I-85 and Duke's West Campus off of NC 751. Duke doesn't have a Franklin Street or oceanfront views, but it does have miles and miles of firetruck trails to log mileage in. I trained for my first 2 marathons in those woods back in '01 and '02 and unlike the rest of Durham, not much has changed in there since then. I try to make it up to that part of Durham about every month or so, although the ATT is more convenient for me being waaay down in South Durham.

Duke or Pepperdine for college? Easy choice.

So I returned to Duke Forest for the Couch Mountain 5 Miler as part of my club's casual Winter Race Series. I don't know how this trail was named as such -- it isn't really a mountain, but just a big hill in the middle of Duke Forest. Nor do I know who Couch was or if at some point there was a couch at the top, which would be a welcome addition after the climb, and surely where I'd end up comatose later in the day.

Going into this run, as I was hesitating to call it a "race", my legs weren't fresh (I ran 15 miles Saturday) and my mind wasn't fresh (worked the rest of the day after my 15 miler and early this AM before the run). So I'd see how it would go. The plan was to push it just hard enough to be a good tempo workout, but not race it. And of course, break out all of my finest winter running gear.

The best part of winter running is dressing like as big of a tool as possible in public

So the course basically goes like this... you run up a big hill, turn around, run down it for a bit, then cut to the right and barrel through the woods on a narrower trail with all kinds of perils (holes, roots, rocks) covered by the fallen leaves. The sense of impending doom while speeding along faster than humanly possible on a flat stretch is about as exciting as our sport possibly gets.

I let the fast pack go out, I trailed them by a bit, passed a few early on going up the hill, rounded the "lollipop" and then said to myself, "screw it, let's hammer this going down." So I channeled my inner Anthony Corriveau and surged down the trail with reckless abandon, passing everyone but the top 2. Great race! The End.

Not really.

See, when you get to the bottom, that's about the 2 mile mark. There are 3 more miles left, mostly on the road, and no matter what direction you run, it seems as if you are going into the wind. After letting gravity do most of the work through the woods on a trail, running on the road feels awkward. Everything feels slower, but the level of effort is harder. This is why I've largely given up road racing, after my flameout at the Turkey Trot 8K.

My Turkey Trot went about like this turkey

But I ran the last 3 reasonably well. Uwharrie 40 ace Bart Bechard narrowed the gap a bit, but when I rounded the final corner, I looked up and saw the finish line was less than 100 yards away. Before that turn, I thought I had quite a bit left to go, but upon seeing the end, I kicked it one last time holding on for 3rd, finishing time somewhere in the 31:20s... or roughly the same time as the Turkey Trot a few weeks ago on the road (faster?) that I tapered and trained for. How does that work?

So, ok the course was a little short but definitely tougher. It must have been the Batman shirt. Or maybe I was motivated by the cold Beast Ice was being served afterward (as it turned out, I passed on this for 11 in the morning and opted to put in another 3 miles -- yeah, I'm not fun anymore).
Megan's reaction: "whoa..."

The moral of the story: don't interrupt your training for a casual weekend race, set really low expectations, have fun, wear a ridiculous outfit, and knock your expectations out of the park.

Now, The End.
Couch Mtn to Couch... watching another Panthers' loss

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