Spartan Race

Friday, September 28, 2012

Riverbound Race Series - Charlotte

     I learned a little about myself last weekend.  Mostly that I was slow. Also, though, I learned that I was at least a little more resilient than I had feared I was.  Given that I really only ran last weekend because I have a Spartan Beast coming up in mid-October, I thought it might be a good idea to get at lest one more training run in prior to said beat down.  Why train when you can race?  I pulled out my trusty phone on the car ride home from Asheville and started looking for another race. The RiverBound Race Series Charlotte endeavor the next weekend seemed to fit the bill perfectly.  Half Marathon? Check! Close by? Check! Trail Run. Hmmm. This, I had not considered, but given that the Spartan is a trail run, it seemed to be a bonus.  I signed up immediately.    Thus, I found myself cruising up I-77 in the wee hours of a Saturday morning, simultaneously excited about running some trails and kind of nervous that I was still sore from my mid-week training session (tabata squats always require some recovery).

The Charlotte flavor of the Riverbound Race series (there's also an Asheville variety) is located on the campus of the US National Whitewater Center, and I honestly don't know if there is a better outdoor venue in all of the South.  The place is gorgeous, clean, innovative, and literally made for this kind of race.  I'd previously been up here for the Spartan Sprint in the spring, and immediately found myself lamenting the fact that I hadn't come back since to try the ropes course, zip lines, or whitewater offerings.  Race check-in was quick and painless. This event was the ultimate of four spread over the year.  Each event features a 5k plus a race of increasing length.  The first event also included an 8k, the second a 10k, the third a 15k.  I just happened to hit upon the fourth, which featured a half. 

I timed my trip well, and had just enough time to wonder around for a few minutes, trying in vane to understand the physics and mechanics behind the man-made rapids of the Whitewater center, before I had to line up for the 8AM start.  The race directors made a decision to start the 5K prior to the half, and as a result those of us running the longer distance ended up standing around for a while, waiting for the course to clear.  After about 15 minutes we were off.  We ran around the edge of the whitewater channel for about half a mile, and then hit the woods.  And slowed to a crawl.  I think this is the same as every event I've run that had any trail in it. Hit the single track, and walk.  Soon enough, though, people began to spread out, and one could at least trot.  I fell in behind a big guy wearing orange shoes who paced like a metronome.  I'm horrible at pacing, so if I can find another person who is good at it running the speed I need to be going, hey, great.  This guy never varied his pace - up hill, down hill, roots, rocks - it didn't matter. That was a really good thing, because I didn't have any mental energy to devote to figuring out if I was going the right speed.  I was too busy trying to avoid killing myself. 

The vast majority of this race was single track, literally crawling with roots, vines, boulders, stones, wet clay, and every other bit of nature you can think of that could trip, stab, catch, twist, or pull one's ankle, foot, leg, or knee. I have never had to concentrate so much on placing my feet in the right spot for miles at a time.  I know I ran through some really pretty areas, but to be honest, I was looking at the trail five to ten feet in front of me most of the time.  Every once in a while, I'd look up for a second, and realize that I had been running by, say, the Catawba River, and wonder how long it had been there.  I saw a lot, looking straight down.  Sand. Clay. Dirt. Holes.  Much later, a broken toilet swam into view (likely coinciding with the area pithily marked "toilet bowl" on the race map).  Once, a random snake slithering into an drainage culvert (oddly placed in the middle of the woods) eased into view. Occasionally, I'd note some part of a ropes course or zip line.  I'm not saying this wasn't a pretty race or, in its own way, maybe even a stunning race, but the scenery was taken in very, very locally rather than by gazing out over distant vistas the way one can run a race on asphalt.  In the early going, the trail was well marked, but I hadn't paid any attention as to whether the orange or the yellow signs depicted the rout for the half (the other being the 5k).  I was really glad that they had started my group separately, and I could confidently follow the folks ahead of me. My Garmin seems to have had a similar problem with not being able to figure out where I was going.  With all the hills and switch backs, it seemed to get the idea I was on an elevator at some points and not give me credit for any forward motion despite fairly impressive changes. 

I followed orange-shoe guy until about mile 7, when he abruptly slowed his pace.  In fact, a lot of people started slowing down about that point.  There was one really long hill about the middle of the race that seemed to be the Bette noir of many folks.  Since I'm out of shape, I intentionally started in the back third of the pack.  From this hill (perhaps Goat Hill from the map?) onward, I started passing a lot of people.  Not that I was going fast.  A lot of other people just slowed. A lot.  I probably had a 10 to one ratio of passing people versus being passed over the last 6 miles of the race.  I usually wouldn't have any idea what that ratio was, but on this race, you had to plan to pass or move over to be passed, so it required some degree of thought to do either.  Also, about this time, I started to see a lot of people fall. Spectacular wipe outs.  I fairly good at predicting it.  I'd see a runner start dragging his feet.  Soon he'd bounce over a root or two.  A minute or so later - full fledged tumble. Almost all of us did it at some point.  Everybody I saw popped right back up laughing.  My time came around mile 11 when I caught my left foot on something and started falling straight forward like a log.  Probably because my trainers tend to go nuts with them, I instinctively threw the same leg out in front of me, executed a stuttered forward lunge, recovered with my right leg, and barely broke stride.  I'm sure it looked as graceful as a Japanese Beetle courting a bug zapper, but at least I didn't fall.

As I mentioned before, I didn't see a lot of the race course, but other things were profound.  Given all the effort involved, very few people were talking. Birds chirped happily.  Water lapped at river banks.  High voltage wires occasionally hummed overhead.  The first half of the race smelled like river.  The second like trees and dirt.  A latter portion of the race had three different widely spaced segments of the course pass through the same meadow.  Each time, I was overwhelmed by some flower that smelled like melted butter (not sure what they were, perhaps buttercups, but I'd always assumed they were named for their looks, not their smell).  I enjoyed it immensely.

I have to admit, I was glad to see the finish line.  I had enough left in the tank to speed up a little bit at the end, but was pretty spent by the time I finished. This race was one of the most enjoyable I've ever run.  Well run, plenty of water stops and volunteers, great venue.  By my usual grading criteria, it was only missing two things - beer and a medal at the end.  It's no secret that I run for T-shirts and participant medals, but if more races were like this one, I might start waiving the latter requirement.

1 comment:

  1. Love This Post :D