Sep 27, 2007

Race Report - The Pfalz Point Challenge


gapin' across the finish line

This was my first trail race. It was a learning experience, and the finish was MUCH better than the start, where at mile 0.6, while thinking about the possibility of coming across a tripped-up runner in front of me, I myself tripped on a rock and promptly ate dirt! Unhurt, I quickly got up, brushed myself off, responded to people asking if I was ok, and resumed running. A great way to start my first trail race.

The first mile went by quickly enough. The experience of being on trails was fascinating - most road races are on rather broad strips of asphalt. On the other hand, the carriage roads at this race, wide enough for a jeep and not much else, were pretty crowded with 300 runners. Made it difficult to pass people, which isn't really what I wanted to do anyway. So we basically just ran in a tight group for a while, and by the time the first stretch of single-track came along, wide enough for a bicycle and not much else, the group had loosened up enough so that it could become a tight column of runners. This, too was fine. I was lucky in that the column I was in was running the exact pace that I felt comfortable, and even though I had SWORN to walk up all the hills in this ten-mile race, at the beginning I was so fresh that I didn't mind jogging up with the back of the pack.

Downhills were a different situation, where the back-of-the-packers became very cautious, meticulously choosing each footstep and slowing down significantly. At 285lbs, I hate the impact-related implications of braking yourself with each step going downhill, so I've gotten pretty good at "gliding" down hills with very fast light footstrikes - the problem was that I had to break the column, only one person wide. And that meant running off the side of the trail. At high speed. It got pretty scary.

Still, only about 20% of the run was singletrack, and by mile 2, people had dispersed enough that it became possible to walk the hills without causing too much disruption to the column of runners, and that was a good thing, for leading up to mile 3 was a steep 500-foot single track ascent that I definitely intended to walk. And I did. It was great. My heart rate dropped to 145 power-walking up the hill and I really recovered enough to resume running at a very good pace when it flattened out.

The rest of the race can be characterized by:
1.) Leisurely smiley-faced fast-paced power-walking up the hills
2.) Intense concentration speeding down the hills
3.) Miles going by much faster then normal

I told my wife to expect me to cross the finish line somewhere between 2:00 and 2:30. With a half-marathon PR of about 2:45, I didn't expect to be much faster than that. Yes, it was 3.1 miles shorter than a half-marathon, but it also added 2000 feet of elevation gain. So at mile 7, when I looked at my watch, and realized I was on pace for a sub-2 hour finish, I kind of shook it off as unlikely. Mile 8, I realized that it may be possible, but I was kind of tiring out. It was a hard part in the race to really push the pace. At mile 9, I really started to wonder if I was actually going to pull it off. And pull it off I did - with an unofficial finish time 1:58:17. (Official finish photo, with wifey goodness in the foreground)

I knew I liked trail running, but I had no idea that the races were so much fun. It's not that it's a much different vibe than road races (although there are differences), it's that I just had a lot more fun running through the forest rather than through suburbia. The miles seemed to go by very quickly, and I have nothing but fond memories of the entire experience. My legs certainly weren't used to this kind of workout, the longest trail run I've ever done was about 5 miles and even less vertical. I still feel kind of sore, days later. But I've gotta tell you, this won't be my last trail race - and I will look for many more of these in the future.