Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Pilot Mountain Payback
It has taken me awhile to get around to posting this report but that is not a reflection of how much I enjoyed this race but rather finding the time to put my thoughts in writing. No excuse tonight so here it is.
I was up way to early but that's what we runners do to get up in time to do these races. I drove over to Margherita's and from there we rode down with Tony who would be getting in a bike ride while supporting along the course. The drive went quickly and uneventful and we made it to the race site in plenty of time to get ready and hang out with the few friends in attendance. Ultramom Amy had camped out and was there along with a few other ultra and MTC friends including Mark Long, Jim Plant, Jeff McGonnell and I finally got to meet Bill Weimer. It was a beautiful morning in the 40's and the sun was shining brightly as it rose above the trees just before the 9 am start time with a promise of perfect running conditions.
After final preparations we made it over to the start line. If you don't like wet feet this race is not for you because the first stream crossing is within the 1st 100 ft and after crossing there is an steep long hill so after just a minute of running I began walking to save energy and not go into oxygen debt before I even got warmed up. Margo and I walked together but that would be about all the time we would spend together in the race. Once we topped the hill I picked up the pace and started picking my way around a lot of runners on the trail on the downhill.
The course began with a loop through the park mostly on gravel roads and some trail. I was just trying to take it easy to began with knowing that the tough part of the course would come around mile 8. We crossed another creek and were soon leaving the Yadkin River section of the park and after crossing a road began onto the corridor trail, a combination of double and single track that is about 5.5 miles long that connects to the mountain section of the park. We were mixed in with the runners doing the "heavy half" and I could tell there were quite a few runners that were new to trail racing. This section of the course was quite runnable with few rocks and roots to contend with. A few more creek crossings and rolling terrain but none of the hills were too long. I was in ultra mode at this point so I was walking a lot of the steeper portions of the hills. This was entertaining for awhile as I was leapfrogging so many that were trying to run the whole time. I would fall back a little on the climbs but then make up ground and pass a few on the downhills.
This continued for the next several miles and during this time the temperature was climbing to a very comfortable upper 50's so I had my sleeves rolled up by mile 5. I was cruising along fine until another creek crossing where I felt some debris wash into my left shoe which has a small whole around the top of the big toe. ( I wear out a hole in all my shoes within 200 miles at that spot). My gaiters can't help that area and the debris was causing a lot of discomfort so I was looking for a spot to sit and fix it. I knew it wasn't too far to the aid station so I was hoping no damage would be done until I could get there.
Finally came into the AS and I quickly filled my bottle and then sat in a chair to empty the trash out. No wonder it hurt. I found a piece of glass wedged in the corner in front of my big toe along with some smaller pieces of junk. Really lucky not to have been cut and surprised to find glass picked from the creek. While I was sitting there I saw Margo and a few others move ahead of me. I put my shoe on quickly and headed out in pursuit.
We crossed another road here and then began the Summit Trail which was described on the sign as "strenuous" An understatement for sure. The halfers had turned around back at the aid station so things were quite spread out now with less than 75 in the marathon now. I was hoping to catch up with Margo but she was already out of sight. I could just barely see two guys up ahead and after a little while I looked back and couldn't see anyone coming. The trail had become very rocky, and a lot of the rocks were covered in leaves making for treacherous footing and it was a pretty steep climb in places with not many switchbacks. I was concentrating on being safe at this point knowing that I wasn't going to make up anytime here and that this tough section would only last for a few miles.
I was really feeling very good and enjoying the beautiful views from the trail of the rocks and seeing the Big Pinnacle coming closer. I was passed by two young guys before we finally came off the single track section and began the final push to the top on a groomed , wide trail with steps built in every few feet. I was moving along well and soon came out at the upper parking lot and the aid station at the overlook. A gorgeous view but no time to waste so I filled up my bottle again and grabbed a cookie and a gel and headed out for my lap around the pinnacle.
The only time I had walked this section was way back when I was still married and that has been over 20 years so I had no real memory of what it was like. Well, it's very pretty but very tough with lots of rock steps up and down making it a slow trip around. I did snap a couple of quick photos but I didn't want to take up any time and the footing was too sketchy to not pay attention. I hope to return sometime to just walk and enjoy this unique section of trail.
It is a short loop around and I was looking forward to making up for lost time on the downhill but I was in for a bit of a surprise. We would take a different route on the return going around the mountain on it's shoulder and the first mile or so was on some of the toughest trail I have ever been on before. Rocks rocks and more rocks as we ran down below a wall that many climbers were enjoying. The trail was basically a pile of rubble that had fallen from the wall over the millenia and some had been carved into steps. I think it may be the only time I've tried to run downhill and lost more time on my average pace.
After a mile or so the trail finally looped back to the smooth groomed surface and a short climb before heading down and around the mountain. I passed one runner just as we reached the climb. I felt great so I decided to just put the hammer down for awhile. The next few miles were some of the fastest of the day for me as the trail was a gradual downhill and fairly smooth. I passed a couple of others here like they were standing still. Actually walking and they commented on how well I had paced myself. That made me feel good. Experience and solid training do pay off sometimes.
I was in and out of the Visitors Center aid station very quickly and then back onto the trail. The next several miles would be back to the rolling terrain before the summit trail with still a few short but steep climbs. The trail came out of the woods by a beautiful farm and crossed the road and I was surprised to find that I was already back to the aid station and beginning of the corridor trail. Just as I came in Tony rode up on his bike and I asked him how far ahead Margo was in front of me. He said he wasn't sure that she was ahead of me but I never passed her so unless she had gone into the bathrooms at the summit he had missed her.
I just grabbed another gel and took off still hoping to go under 5 hours. I caught and passed another couple of runners including one of the two that had passed me on the climb. I was enjoying using the runners in front of me as extra motivation to keep pushing the pace.
I came to the last aid station and where the race director was working. He said I looked like a man that was looking for something and asked what I needed. I just blew by and said I just need to hurry up and get to the finish line. Shortly after I spotted one more runner in the distance so I focused on reeling him in. When I got close I recognized him as the other young guy that had passed me on the climb. Yes ! I finally caught up to him and he asked if I knew how far we had to go. I wasn't sure but I said it couldn't be much further and then I passed with authority. In just a moment the trail came out to a road and I realized that I was back to the park and should have about a mile or less to go but the directional sign was blown over and I wasn't sure which way to go. While I stood there looking around trying to figure it out he caught back up to me. I decided to go left and quickly figured out I was right so once again I put the hammer down. I really couldn't believe how good I felt and how fast I was able to push the pace to the end. This is getting to be a habit and I like it !
I crossed the line in 4:56:10, a little slower than I had originally hoped for but the middle miles were much tougher than I had expected so I was very pleased with the effort. Margo had finished a few minutes earlier once again showing that she is one tough lady on the trails as well as the road marathons. Jeff had a good run improving over his time from last year by several minutes. I went to sit and wait for Amy to finish. Mark came in looking strong and Jimbo ran a course pr and then finally Amy came in looking strong with a big smile. I was very happy to see that and that she was able to run pain free after having some IT band issues that caused her to DNF at Weymouth last month.
Overall a great day and a great race. I do believe the course is short but hey it's a trail marathon so no biggie.
here is a link to the few pics I took