Sunday, August 24, 2014

2014 Continental Divide 10K report and some self-loathing whining

So you think you're a trail runner? But maybe those ultras aren't quite your style because you still like running FAST...

Well then I have a race for you...

It’s in late August – and sure, you might be in the mountains, but you're still in the state of North Carolina (barely).  It isn’t Durham hot but it’s sticky-muggy-icky enough to be trouble.  You begin your morning with a half-mile climb partially up a steep single-track trail.  By the end of that first climb you’re already winded and breaking a sweat.  And that’s when you think, “congratulations, I made it to registration tent to pick up my packet.” 

You haven’t even made it to mile 0.0 yet (that’s another climb) but your fears are already confirmed:  it’s gonna’ be a rough morning. 

An older man starts hollering the race description before the start in an Ashe County drawl and it sounds like a whole lot of “YOU RUN DOWN THE BIG HILL AND YOU TURN AND RUN UP THE BIG HILL!!” and yup… that pretty much sums up what the next hour of what your life is going to be like.

Shamelessly stolen from Anthony Corriveau, a real trail runner

The gun fires and it feels like a bizarro cross country meet… there’s all sorts of fast people in this one, men and women much faster than you who are gunning for USATF national awards and whatnot, so just swallow your ego and let them get ahead while YOU RUN DOWN THE BIG HILL just like the old man said… and sure everything’s good at first when you’re on the grass, but as soon as you hit the first patch of single track you go into stutter step mode plummeting down what feels like a slip and slide.  That's minus-20% grade for you.  (idiot)

Then you make that first turn and start to go UP and that’s when the whole world slows down.  But when you’re 6 feet tall and your spindly spider legs are about 5 foot 6, running up hill isn’t so slow going YET, at least not compared to every one else who is (smartly/ wisely) walking or barely running.  So you pass person after person until you get to the next down, and then all those people you just passed come flying by you again while you try to plant your size 13 behemoth trail racers between rocks and roots.  This course is not kind to the anatomy of the tall gangly runner.  This is Uwharrie’s evil cousin, a shorter distance but just as gnarly.  Sure, it isn’t ALL single track like Uwharrie (there are some grassy parts) but some of the steep climbs make that rocky portion near the start of Uwharrie seem like running on the track.  When this course goes up, it really goes UP.

Don't underrate the importance of inertia.  When a course won’t let you get into any groove, the “easy” parts become a chance to rest but the hard parts are still just as hard.

You contemplate a few times when your legs feel uber-heavy on a ‘flat’ section in the first three miles taking two months off of running and hitting a reset button as your mind clutters with thoughts of “I can’t possibly be in this bad of shape, can I?” You think about how you haven’t felt the same running since Boston.  That was back in April.  You think about how your summer training never got off the ground.  You begin the cycle of self-loathing.

You hear guys screaming bloody murder ahead and wonder whether someone has broken an ankle or fallen off the side of the mountain (neither a surprising outcome on this course) but when the group ahead of you starts to veer off course muttering something about wasps-bees-hornets just ahead, you know it’s time to start hightailing through the woods on your own path.  At least I wasn’t the guy ahead of me – he said he’d probably die if he were stung (thankfully he wasn’t). One of our BCTC folks had to take an ambulance ride to whoknowswhere for a hospital treatment.  Yikes.  I hope she’s all right…

The vintage Charlotte Hornets!  Ah, childhood memories.
The one of me actually getting stung by a real hornet, I had suppressed until yesterday.
You’re in the closing mile and hug a few trees to let the runners behind you pass because for the tenth time you can’t F’ING CAN’T RUN DOWNHILL but you can’t run UP anymore either because you’re toasted.  You start ambling up a rocky climb that would be labeled as a “strenuous hike” in a trail guide – and the woman ahead of you is staggering and looks like she might fall off the side any second if she passes out – and you abandon any chance of breaking an hour or whatever esoteric goal you try to set for a course like this and just stay back and wait and make sure she’s going to make it up to the top of that thing without busting her head on a rock or falling into a crevice.  You like to think that you have a conscious – a soul – that you’ve matured as a person as you’ve aged and put aside that competitive desire in the interest of helping another human being versus speeding by to pick up another place.  Or maybe it’s just a convenient excuse for slowing down when you’ve already decided running hard is pointless and already claimed the strategy of just surviving to run another day.

You cross the finish line and contemplate doing a cartwheel across because… well you sandbagged the heck out of this one and it would seem a fitting end to an absurd morning (along with your absurd week/month) but you just don’t have the energy to even try.

You declare success when you can say:

You didn’t break/sprain/badly twist your ankle! (congrats to the winner, David Roche)

You didn’t fall! (a victory for me in any trail race)

You weren’t stung! (unlike half of the people in the race)

You weren’t killed in what seemed like a real life simulation of the Hunger Games!!!

You cross this one of the bucket list and rethink the “not running two months” idea and plan an 8 miler at Moses Cone the next day where the bridle trails wrap around the side of the mountain gently at a reasonable grade.  You wake up the next morning and change to those plans to “maybe 6 miles.”

You decide to leave the mountain running for your running alter-ego – the reckless trail runner with the secret talent for hammering downhill winding single tracks with no fear.  

You think about your next fall target race – a relatively flat half marathon on roads in a mid-sized city with commercial sponsors and gaudy medals for all the finishers instead of cool hand crafted plaque in the shape of a woodland creature or butterfly.  

You accept that you are a wannabe hipster of running, that you really are “Mr. Normcore” when it comes to the races you excel in - that as much as you try, try, and TRY again to do the Uwharries and Continental Divides of the world, you really are that lame above-mediocre road race dude who every now and then gets a crazy idea in his head just to keep it fresh.

End of whining.  You want a real trail race - go ahead and put this one on your list next year, but only if you're not allergic to bees.



  1. great report! I'm sorry I missed it. Well actually kind of glad I didn't have to suffer through that again. It is a nothing but a punishment. But it was the only race I where I could hang with the Godiva fast guys. I'm kind of the opposite of you: not much of a runner, but pretty good at the competitive falling down a hill.

  2. Yeah, I'll admit - I've always been a little jealous of trail types like you. I've considered being a good trail runner as a 'bonus' - not quite like being good at an entirely different sport, but provides the opportunity to have races where the outcome isn't entirely predictable. But yes, the races are painful no matter what...