Monday, October 25, 2010

Jensens 2010 - The Rest of the Story

OK, here is the complete article of the Jensen's Stables Ultimate XC Challenge Race. I also submitted this article to the race director, and he liked it, so it might appear (possibly edited) on the Jensen's website.

Jensens Stables Ultimate XC Challenge 2010
Not Just Another Race

182 runners stood anxiously awaiting the start, a mowed path through a farm field in front, woods and trees tinged with autumn colors stretched out behind them. The race director, after giving acknowledgements and thanks to the organizers and property owner, gave one simple instruction: “throw away your watches!” We all looked at our wrists, but being runners, no one heeded the instruction. We should have! This was the fourth annual running of the Jensen Stables Ultimate XC Challenge race, and by now we should have learned our lesson, though perhaps first-timers had an excuse. The word “ultimate” has been re-defined each year since the inaugural event in 2007, and this year was no exception. Following the initial exhilaration of the first flat, fast quarter-mile across the field and around the horse stables, we encountered the first hill, where runners slowed to a pedestrian pace, and no one seemed anxious to pass. This was a mere portent of things to come over the next eight miles of our lives. At the one mile mark, a swamp, where mud and mire rose to our knees, should have been a confirmation of the director’s admonition regarding the watches. But the pace on my Garmin GPS unit still showed 7 minutes per mile, so there was no need for apprehension. Not yet.

We entered the woods, and the “challenge” portion of the race name began to become readily apparent. Two to three miles of steep up and downhill single-track trails ensued, with rocks, roots, and hairpin turns. Passing was definitely “at your own risk.” The Garmin average pace slipped to over 8 minutes per mile. “Not that bad,” I thought.

The miles continued, with escalating hills, several creek crossings, and mud, mud, everywhere, mud! Just as the shoes were drying out to a crust, the orange flagging would force us through yet another slime pit, typically followed by an uphill “scramble” so steep that hands were either required for balance, or at times, needed to grasp at branches and trees trunks to prevent a downhill slide. The Garmin now showed 8:20 per mile average, but I didn’t throw the watch away, continuing to defy the race director’s instructions. There must be some flat sections or downhills to average out the slow pace of what was now becoming nothing less than a grueling struggle with nature. Finally, at 4.5 miles, the course wound gently downhill, then opened up onto a tame, gravel road. The pace quickened, and the hearts of my nearby competitors were visibly lifted. Then it came into view… 8-feet deep natural pond surrounded by wetlands, perfect for hikers, photographers, nature lovers, and triathletes, but somewhat disconcerting for runners..and what was that dock for?. Although I was initially planning on taking the 1/3-mile penalty lap around the pond, I was overcome by peer pressure (how silly of me at my age), and took the icy plunge into deep water, estimated at below 60 degrees, or at least well below comfortable swimming pool temperatures. Fifty yards later, gasping for breath, yet strangely refreshed, I heaved myself out of the water, once again stepping in mud up to my knees. My nearest competitor, also in my age group, comforted me with “that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Fortunately, after the “swim,” there was a brief respite from the topography, with a moderately gentle incline to the next swath of forest, including the only civilized and paved section of the run. This allowed for about 200 meters of drying time before the next phase.

More of the same followed for the next two miles: scenic woodlands, hills, single-track trails, navigating through brush, straining to see the next piece of pink or orange flagging, and taking a wrong turn (but correcting it before too much damage ensued). Then came the final mile, when the legs had already been beaten to a pulp. Another steep climb, mostly walking, but strangely, no runners gaining on me from behind….everyone was in the same condition at this stage of the race. Now, at about 7.3 miles, the race began! After a welcome downhill in a meadow-like setting, the trail veered sharply back into the woods, up a steep hill, and then over two military-style pole barriers, the first only about 5 feet high, and the second over our heads. After the barriers were successfully scaled, breathing a sigh of relief, a downhill provided a needed rest, but then a sharp left turn was required, taking runners off the trail and straight into a rocky creek bed. “Yes, stay in the water!” yelled the spotters, almost joyfully. I looked at the Garmin….over 8:50 per mile now. Then another spotter shouted “aha, another victim!” followed by “get down, don’t hit your head on the bridge!” I found myself crawling on my knees through the cold water of the rushing creek, under a footbridge barely 1 ½ feet high (and I did hit my head), then was promptly attacked by tough briars that wouldn’t let go of my legs and running shorts, and cost me some blood and another precious few seconds. Over 9 minutes per mile on the watch now, and still concerned about time and pace…..yet I didn’t throw it away.

The last ¾-mile was deceiving, appearing rather open, gentle, and inviting, but what was gentle at the beginning of this odyssey was no longer after the quads and hamstrings had been hammered to a pulp by hills, creeks, hay bale climbs, water, swamps, mud, and various barriers and obstacle devised by cunning race planners. Finally, into the horse corral near the finish, the spectators were enthusiastic, although they insisted and cajoled each runner to jump the barriers (intended for horses, not humans), not just step over them. There was thunderous applause as I complied with their wishes, and from there, it was easy….through the horse barn, with large curious eyes staring from the stalls, maybe retired racers themselves……..8:56/mile on the Garmin at the end, but I no longer cared.

Maybe next year I’ll come prepared…..without the watch…………

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fourth Annual Jensen Stables XC Results!

Just a short note to post results. A complete article with race photos will follow in a separate post. I ran the 4th annual running of the Jensen Stables Ultimate XC Challenge race this past weekend, including a 40 to 50-yard swim in a very cold pond. I managed a 17th place finish overall out of 182 runners, and grabbed the third and final slot in the 50 to 59 year old age group. My time??? 1:13:27 for about 8.3 miles, just under 9 minutes per mile. Seems slow, but you'll understand when I post the full article!!

I'm on the right in black in the photo (this is near the start, across a farm field).


Results found at link below:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

First Cross Country Race of the Season

Finally, a cross country race! Not a bad start to the season, with a 19:53 for 5K, fairly flat course, 9th out of about 52 runners. This was a very, very small college race, with three small private colleges represented (D'youville, Hilbert, and U. Pitt at Bradford). The race was also open to the public. The highlight for me was beating the first woman in the last 600 meters. Pretty sad!

I may run another race this weekend, then on October 17 I am planning on a very rugged 8.5 mile trail/obstacle/cross country race.

Stay tuned!