Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Friends2Friends Alexa's Thunder Run, 13.1 miles of trail.

On Sunday, I got to test out my new pair of Brook's PureGrits at the Thunder Run.  Friend2Friends puts on this race to raise money for free mammograms for women in who cant afford one.  As a breast cancer survivor who needed medicaid for treatment, I appreciated that goal of this race.

I was excited to try my new trail shoes, but a little nervous about racing a trail half.  I like to run fast on pavement.  I really like to run in the woods when free to back off the pace in exchange for not eating dirt.  I have knocked parts of my front teeth out 4 times or so in my lifetime. After 3 times, the novelty just wears off.  As a result, I tend to be a clumsy blind slug in the woods so I knew this was not going to be pretty.

I have been waiting to find a light pair of trail shoes that have some substance to them and the Grits did well.  I didn't have a chance to run any trails in the Grits until race day, but I attempted to "break them in" a bit by wearing them to my mediation class the day before. :)   Sitting at a conference table for 8 hours is like running trails, right? 

What I did learn from my casual wearing is that my orthotics take up so much room that the strap across the top digs into the top of my foot.  This did not feel good and I contemplated cutting the strap off before the race, but I decided to see what happened on race day.  I have also decided I need to lose the orthotics at some point since after about 50 miles of running, they bruise my feet.

This race was so well done that I am going to try to get to the rest of the series.  First, the RD made point to leaf blow the entire 13.1 mile course.  I never heard of  a race doing this, but I can say that the result was that the race was much more runnable than it could have been.  People still fell down all around me, but for some reason I stayed on my feet. I believe it was because of two reasons: my cautious pacing, and the fact that I could actually see roots, rocks and holes that would normally be covered by leaves this time of year.

In addition to blowing a 13.1 mile line into the forest, the race was also marked with arrows and flour and managed to cart out water to 6 points on the course.  They even posted mile markers! Who does this in a trail race?  I have been completely spoiled.  :)

Regardless of the efforts by the RD to make running this race as mindless as possible, my brain still hurt from trying to focus on the ground the whole time.  This is my problem and I am sure many others would have just flew through this course. When running fast in the woods, I lose my ability to find my zone, I pay too much attention to each step and I miss being lost in thought.  The tediousness of each step becomes to apparent and I start to crave mindlessness even more.

I started this run a little aggressively because I noticed the tower on top of the mountain that we would eventually reach in the last 2 miles.   I haven't run enough hills so this was going to kick my butt and it did.  I must admit I spent the first 3 miles miserable, sucking wind as my chest felt completely inadequate in its ability to extract enough oxygen to propel me upwards.  At some points my feet felt odd and I was not sure if I liked the Grits.  After two hills in a row, my chest was so tight a guy hearing me wheeze became concerned.  I decided that if I got to the S/F line at 8.5 and I was not yet having fun, I was going home.

Fortunately by mile 4.5 things felt better, the course had very long runnable stretches where speed I lost on the hills could be made up.  I loved being able to close my eyes and run as hard as I felt I should.  When I hit the single track again, I slowed it down, especially after hearing people hit the dirt both in front of me and behind me.

At the 8.5, I didn't think twice about stopping.  My feet felt great, I was finding my stride, and I could breath.  There was huge out and back stretch on old rail trail that allowed me to make up time I would later loose on the climb up to the tower. I was running with a pack of guys until we hit that rail trail.  I did manage to pass them all and put a great deal of distance on them on the way back, so much that when I looked back I saw no one. When I looked ahead, I saw know one.  At this point panic set in and I thought I possible missed a turn while running inside my head. 

At mile 11, I saw an aid station and then began the climb up the hill. I was happy to be able to catch up and pass two more people. I was actually surprised because I felt just so inadequate on those hills.  One guy flew past me, but no one else caught up. I think knowing that once I got up that hill, I could race down to the finish propelled me forward.

The downhill was so steep that I actually took it cautiously.  A group of guys in hard hats and packs were walking on the trail that I was about to enter.  A course marshal warned them all to move over and they did.  He called out that I had half a mile to go and I got excited!  I picked it up and just as I ran past this crowd of guys, my right calf spasmed like it does when I try to take off one shoe after a long hard race by pushing on the back of it with the other foot. This is the fastest method I have learned to send my calf into contortions that normally drop me to the ground.  This has never happened in a race, but here I was with .5 miles to go and about to buckle in front of a crowd!  I managed to stay on my feet, but I did slow down a bit until I was sure the cramping was over.  Finally, I popped out of the woods and headed towards the finish, where the timer called out each finisher by name. 

Chicken soup and rolls were handed out while the band played. The RD called out raffle ticket numbers and I scanned the posted results.  2:12 for the 13.1 miles.  Although my last half was about a half hour faster, I predicted a 2:15 for my finish time based upon what runners ran last year and their own road times.  I was happy with 2:12.   I was also really happy to see that I was 9th female and 3rd in my AG.

My calves still feel abused but it is the good pain, not the bad pain that comes from leaving early. :)


  1. I know this is an older post but I am thinking of doing this half this year. How bad were the hills? Your post scared me a bit.

  2. Lloyd, it was hilly. Hills seem to be personal. I found it challenging. When I did my race research, I looked at others who could run about a 1:45 on the road they were coming in about 2:15. I also looked at other "samples" from the list. I used that info to predict my own finish and I was 3 minutes faster than my guess... I found that by taking a recent road time and multiplying it by 1.25 -1.3, that should give you a good idea of how much these hills could slow things down. The race is not impossible or too difficult to attempt, you just wont run anywhere near the same time you will if you run on the road. What is nice is the RD did a great job clearing the trail, which never happens in trail races. The race is worth doing. Just prepare to be slower.