Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mt. Jefferson Challenge 2012

Mt. Jefferson Challenge - 7.2mi - 1500' gain - West Jefferson, NC

My goal race is still MMTR but in the meantime I need to get in miles, more specifically miles with some elevation so a repeat of this race from last year made sense.  The main goal of course being (broken record from other posts)... DO NOT GET INJURED!

I finished third at this race last year so I knew the course and what it could do to (or for) me.  It could potentially hurt me with the 3+ miles of knee jarring, quad busting over-speed on the downhill but it also was a good way to get in some good hill work.  Not to mention it was a great excuse to visit with the in-laws and be in the Blue Ridge Mountains around peak fall leaf season.

Last year when I ran this race I ran with a bit of a cold/sickness (race report) so this year would have to be better even if I was only using it as a training run of sorts and trying to not really race it.  Ashley asked my plans/expectations on our drive up and I told her that I knew I could potentially find myself where I was last year and be in the hunt for a top three spot but that I honestly wouldn't mind if a bunch of speedsters showed up and I found myself sitting around 6th with no real reason to push myself too hard.  I just planned on running to not get hurt and get a good workout in and honestly thought I was going to have a hard time doing that and maintaining my 3rd from last year anyway.  If I could finish 3rd it would be great to win a wreath again this year but I wasn't holding my breath for an outcome like that.

Elevation profile - straight up and straight down
Because of the training run nature I wanted to try and get in some bonus miles and do more of a w/u this year and possibly (timing/body permitting) run back to the top and get a ride back down.  After a 2 mile w/u I was on the line with a handful more runners than last year and I didn't see the top two guys from last year.  There absence didn't mean much since the top two from 2010 weren't there in 2011 yet I still had two fast guys ahead of me last year.  I reminded myself to stick to my plan of running most of the uphill but maybe walk a couple times to keep my pulse from being too crazy and simply cruise on the way back down while maybe maintaining my position yet being fine with letting someone pass if they were flying.  The race started very casually like you would expect a smaller country race and we all headed toward the forested peak looming overhead.  A little over a half mile into the race you start to really climb and I was running not far behind the two leaders with a couple other runners close behind.  I didn't care much as I saw two guys slowly start to pull away and really go at the increasing grade of the road.

Running 3rd & smiling with an 'I'm just happy to be here' attitude ~1mi
Nevertheless, my 'training run' plan slowly inched me toward the lead runners and by the park gate I caught up with and shared some words of encouragement with current number two.  All he could get out was 'its really cold' and I parted ways by apologizing in advance in case my planned Gallowalking had me playing leap frog with this runner the rest of the way up the mountain.  Ashley passes and gives words of encouragement about the time I hit my planned walk (thankfully no race walking photos were taken) and after about 30 seconds I started running again.  The walking ended up being just enough time for the 'cold kid' to catch up as I started running and left him behind again. I kept plugging away at the hill never really red-lining but not slowing too much as well.  Just sticking to plan I tried not to get too excited because you never know what will happen in a race like this and how many might be passing me soon as I wonder if I may have started a little fast.

Running in 2nd/3rd with the leader ahead in white and Ashley (in car) in front of him
Something started to switch in my mind as I went into hunt mode.  I honestly haven't had much competitive desire, nothing like I used to when I was younger at least, so it was intriguing to think about racing this one and giving this 'young buck' a run for his money.  This sounded like a good plan for the race to the top at least, I still had no real desire to race the downhill.

On the 'hunt' around mile 2
Ashley was waiting (with Alekzander in the car) at the first overlook around mile two taking pictures and cheering.  I felt bad doing it but I quickly hushed her with a finger to my lips and pointed to the guy in first in hopes of slowly hunting him down until the second overlook (~.25mi from the top/turn).  Ashley understood but the damage was done and the 'young buck' looked back and soon knew he was being hunted... the chase was on.  I slowly chipped away until I caught up before the second overlook and pulled even with him for a few.  I gave him the same 'Gallowalking warning' as I knew if I wanted to make a good push in the final uphill quarter mile that I would want to bank a little reserves int the gas tank.  I soon pulled ahead and gaped him by a little bit leading into the incline before the second overlook.

As I neared the apex of the climb I thought about a friend named Phyllis who is a beast of a trail runner.  She is doing the West Virginia Trilogy (50k, 50mi & 1/2 marathon 3 days in a row) while I'm here running this little hill.  I prayed for her multiple times on the run and sent her positive thoughts of 'flying on wings like eagles, running and not growing weary, walking and not failing' (from Isaiah 40:31, one of my favorite running verses).  She should be somewhere in the beginning of her 50 miler after running a 50k the day before and probably dealing with just as much elevation but on gnarly trails instead of smooth (albeit steep) roads.  Phyllis goes to our church, and from what I've seen, lives one of the best examples of servant-hood out of anyone I know personally.  Along those lines, she is doing her race(s) to help raise funds for Ethiopa to build a community.  I knew finishing these races would be no easy task and as much as I liked to think it helped her to pray for her during the run I know that it probably helped me put things into perspective to remind me of how Blessed I am and how this race pales in comparison to hers and even more so in the grand scheme of things.

Mind back in the race at hand... with a slight lead on second place.  Here is where I would take my final planned walk break knowing that the turn wasn't far up but the final incline was some of the steepest.  I switched to a walk for about 40 seconds and as soon as I felt him off my shoulder I began to run again and I wasn't hammering it but I definitely put on a little surge for a bit to let him know that I planned to take off.  I ditched the hat & gloves which gave me a mental boost and switching into race mode.  The plan was to hopefully get in front by enough to dash his hopes and leave him not wanting to chase me.  In this ideal world scenario I would be able to cruise the downhill without pounding too hard.  He didn't answer my surge and a quick glance before the final turn into the parking lot turn around revealed a decent lead for such a short distance.

Running in the lead just before the turn with second place in view.

A low five and 'good job' given to current second place...
competitive spirit doesn't have to change one's character right?

I reached the turnaround a bit faster than I thought I would be (30:58) and after veering a bit out of my tangent to low five the second place runner I started cruising the downhill... not flying (yet)... just cruising.  For training runs and most races I hate out and back runs.  I like to see new territory and point to point or even loop races usually provide this but a race like this doesn't have that luxury but I didn't mind all that much.  I liked the out and back nature because as soon as I left the parking lot heading downhill I got to see every runner in the race on their way up.  With the top 5-6 men I started sharing word of encouragement and Blessings with every one and shouted exactly how far they had to the turn to provide the hope that many faces showed they needed.  I was in my element and for some brief moments I honestly forgot my new role... I turned from hunter to the hunted.  I now set myself to have a 'young buck' chasing me down a mountain on legs almost half my age with no worries of bad knees and a fast turnover that I enjoyed in my youth.  A quick glance as I neared the upper overlook reminded me that I was being chased and a look at the watch showed me that he had already closed the gap to around 20 seconds.

I'm the grey figure on the left looking over my shoulder
I laughed because I so carefully hunted him on the way up and now I found myself being the hunted as I cranked it up a notch.  I started timing every sort of straight away I could (not easy on a curvy mountain road) to see if he was gaining.  After the overlook he had closed just a little more but I slowly started to increase the gap to where it stayed constant around 30-40 seconds.  I continued to encourage other runners on their way up but my comments were usually shortened to 'good job' or 'God  Bless' (for the church group wearing the purple shirts) and sometimes even head nods and hand waves (if they were wearing headphones and wouldn't hear me anyway.  Checking the garmin pace I saw it constantly in the mid to low 5 minute mile pace and even saw a number starting with 4 briefly.  I was going so fast that one time a glance over the shoulder found me almost stumbling as I ran off the edge of the road and onto the shoulder before pulling the wheel back onto the pavement.

Happily on the way back down with ~1.5 miles to go
The last time I saw him on a straight section was with just over a 1.5 miles to go and he was still about 45 seconds back so I decided to relax the pace just a little bit thinking I would still have another gear or two if I started seeing him again.  Some quick race math also told me he would have to be running low or sub 5s (after we just ran low 5's most of the way down) if he wanted to close the gap enough to challenge.  I never saw him again and cruised until I was less than 1/4mi out and realized I potentially had a shot at sub 50 minute finish but I couldn't talk myself into really cranking it home.  I finished to a screaming 'Go Daddy' (from an almost 3 year old Alekzander and my wife) in 50:12 as the winner with a downhill split of 19:14.

Coming into the finish of Mt Jefferson 2012 in first place!

I cheered in the next most of the top ten with Ashley and Alekzander and temporarily said good by as they took off to finish breakfast and I took off back up the mountain for more punishment training.  Along the way up I cut through the woods to the cabin to grab something warmer to wear and a snack and head back up the mountain.  I now know that a cold slice of bacon and breakfast sausage do not make a great recovery snack... at least not without water to chase it with.  I didn't make it as far as hoped and since it looked like a ride back down from the top was less than likely I turned around a little over a mile in to head back toward the finish for the award ceremony.  Again, I had fun on the way out and in cheering on the other runners and giving them updates on how little of this self inflicted punishment they had left.

The awards ceremony came and I got nervous as they awarded the ladies first (6 deep) and I didn't hear any mention of the wreaths they gave last year... until the winning female.  When the guys turn came I (very happily) received the same prize and even said a quick plug for West End Wreaths since our family had fun going to the tree farm last year.  Call me silly but I think I was happiest about the win because of the wreath and the fact that if I finished third or even second I wouldn't have won one (a nice Mizuno running hat or visor was given to 2nd-6th).

One of the coolest things was overhearing two women (who were some of the last to come in) talking about the run and how tough & excruciating it was for them.  Amid the lamenting one of them suddenly got a real big smile on her face... pointed straight up to the forested summit and said... 'We just ran up that'.  Seeing the mountain before them surely put everything into perspective.  With smiles on their faces their outlook was changed as they now seemed empowered and capable of many other things once thought impossible (or at least unlikely) for them.  I was able to relive my experience thinking the exact same thing last year... for anyone who has finished this race (or many others like it) you can not run another step in your life yet drive by 50 years from now and point to the sky and say... I ran up that.  That's better than any finishers medal or award that I know of and surely will last longer.

Some of the top six males & females (me in orange of course)

Some stats from the race:
-Paces by race distance (7.2 miles) :           Overall - 6:58/mi, Up - 8:37/mi, Down - 5:21/mi
-Paces by 'corrected distance'* (6.6 miles):   Overall - 7:36/mi, Up - 9:23/mi, Down - 5:49/mi
*The website lists distance as 7.2 miles (3.6 up & back) but my garmin (and others) as well as mapmyrun seem to have it closer to 6.6 miles.
-Improvements over last year: Overall - 3:18 faster, Up - 2:29 faster, Down - 0:49 faster
-Temps ~40 were cold but wore gloves and stocking cap and kept sufficiently warm (ditching them near the top).
-Hydration/Nutrition: Carried amphipod filled with Vitargo S2 Grape and drank ~1/2 before tossing it near the top.  Worked on a chia gel (didn't think I needed it) before the top.
-Shoes: Brooks Green Silence (same as last year and the same shoe I've worn for all road running for the last few years).

**All race photos courtesy of MOJE facebook page

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