Monday, February 22, 2016

Run for Ray trail races

Amie, Greg, Makayla celebrating their respective 2nd place finishes

Had the pleasure of once again competing this year in the Run for Ray Trail races at Brunswick Nature Park in Winnabow, NC. I ran in the 9 mile race and finished 2nd overall, and was awarded a super cool, artisan made skate deck (see photo above). These hand painted decks are arguably the most unique and coveted race prizes in the Wilmington area. Blessed to have been able to run, and race a solid race.

Close to 300 athletes converged on the back-woods rural park last Saturday morning to test their trail running mettle out on either the 3, 9, or 18 mile courses.  Was a beautiful day, with start time temperatures nearing 60 degrees under sunny skies, with light breezes. Contrast that to years past where I and others have been huddled in our respective vehicles to stay warm, and/or dry until moments before it was time to run.

Run for Ray is annually one of my favorite races to attend. Not only because it is a unique, picturesque trail race, but the proceeds go directly to the Ray Underhill Foundation, which helps cancer patients and their families. Ray was a professional skate boarder who lost his life to chordoma cancer several years ago. Hence the awards, which are only given to the top 3 males and females in each distance.

The 9 and 18 mile courses start out on a dirt logging road for about 1/2 mile or so before transitioning to single track trails, snaking predominately through a dense, swampy deciduous forest. Per usual, I tired to not start my race out too fast, but wanted to get ahead of most of the assembled field before we all converged into the woods, where it's much harder to pass.

First part of the race. I'm smiling!

Once on the single track I did pass a few more of my fellow racers, while trying to settle into a comfortably hard pace that I hoped to sustain for the remaining miles. The trails are quite technical in sections... mud slicks, roots, twigs, ruts, sharp/ tight turns, little mogul like jumps, some quick/ short elevation changes. Divine fun and a challenge for sure!  Even the most gifted and experienced trail runners can take tumbles on the unforgiving terrain.

From about miles 3 thru 7 I ran with another guy right behind me. We talked a little, mostly I relayed what miles we had just finished per my garmin watch beeping, and about how pace per relative effort was skewed, and also possibly way off per gps error deep in the woods. I didn't know exactly where I was in the field (can't tell who is in 9, or 18 mile race), but figured I was close to the front and was in a pretty good position to snag a cherished board.

And I have learned, especially through race experience of late, that I tend to run my best when being hunted, as opposed to being the hunter. Periodically I could sense either visually (the trails snaked and switch-backed a lot) or audibly several runners just behind me...and in my mind they were setting me up to reel me in. This healthy, if a bit irrational fear tends to serve as an extra little jolt of motivation to help push me thru physiologically some of the inevitable rougher patches in races.

Up ahead was a solitary runner I kept trying to reel in. Slowly, painstakingly I (we) were able over the span of maybe 2 miles to close the gap up to a few precious seconds, or say 20-30 feet worth of single-track trail.  But I couldn't seem to bridge that last gap. Simultaneously I was trying to pull away and shake my new friend behind me. His breathing was quite labored at points, yet he kept hanging onto me. And I was pushing about as hard as I possibly could, fully aware that I still had to survive another 3 miles or so.

Left, right, straight, up, down, around, thru we continued to run until I heard a bounded thud behind me, which I knew instantly meant my fellow racer had fallen. I called out without looking back "you ok?" and he responded "yeah."  Right after I decided to absorb the brief shock I knew would come, and do what I needed to do to get myself in lock step behind that runner just up ahead. I figured my fallen comrade would not be able to get right up and be able to run hard enough to make it a threesome; therefore putting myself in better position as we neared the last stretches of the race.

And I turned out to be correct. Running and racing can be a bit cruel at times, but such is the nature of our beloved sport. When their is a thin margin separating us, any unforeseen turn of events must shamelessly be exploited. But if anyone of us would become seriously hurt, many a racer, myself included would stop to assist without thinking twice.

I was able to latch on, stay with and just somewhat mindlessly follow the runner in front me for the last mile or 2. At one point my garmin beeped and I called out the mile but he didn't respond, or didn't hear me. Or didn't want to know. I mentally clicked off 1/10s of a mile, each one getting me closer to the end.  His breathing sounded quite normal, like he was just cruising along so I guessed that he was in the 18 miler. However I formulated a plan to sit right off his shoulder as we got close to the final 30-40 meters, and try and out kick him to the finish line if such actions became warranted. But they did not, as I was right and he continued forth after saying good job to me (he eventually won the 18 mile race). Was happy to hear as I got close to the finish line that I was the 2nd male finisher to come back home, and out of the labyrinth of trails and vortex like woods.

Great day to run and compete, and I hope god willing to be back again next year-

Exhausted, but happy as I approach the finish


Start line: 9, 18 milers